Local lessons to be learned following Katrina

It is a bleak time in our country's history: Our soldiers are waging war overseas, terrorism has become a reality of everyday life, and the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history has wiped out the lives of countless Gulf Coast residents. But even in the darkness, there can be light ahead.

Now is the time for residents to prepare individually and for a comprehensive community plan. If a disaster strikes, whether it is a fire, earthquake or human-caused, lives will depend on the actions we take now.

For Carson City, a relatively remote area, this means preparing for a potential large-scale wildfire, an earthquake or a flood. We've had them all.

Although last winter brought sufficient snowpack, we are still in a relatively dry decade that has brought several large-scale wildfires.

How could we forget last year's Waterfall fire that ripped through Carson City, burning 18 homes and more than 8,000 acres. A black scar tearing through Kings Canyon, Timberline and Lakeview reminds us how close we are to Mother Nature's wrath.

The lesson of Hurricane Katrina is that Carson City and all the areas surrounding it need to be prepared. For years, fire and forestry officials have warned Northern Nevadans and visitors about the threat of fire, but most residents likely don't have a plan for evacuation, enough food or water stocked to weather a storm for several days or an emergency kit at the ready. Nevada lawmakers said Thursday they're worried the state lacks an adequate evacuation plan in case of a major natural disaster on the scale of Katrina.

Legislators meeting as the state's Interim Finance Committee discussed the hurricane after approving $295,000 in spending for satellite phones for state law enforcement officers. Officials who sought the funds said such phones are critical in the event regular police radios fail during emergencies - like they did in New Orleans. It's a start.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked scores of state administrators attending the committee's meeting whether they knew anything about an evacuation plan - and got no response. If they don't know who does?

Hopefully exercises like the one held earlier this year in Southern Nevada will help. During "Rotunda Thunda" 78 local, state and federal agencies took part in a massive exercise that involved simulated terror attacks on the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Las Vegas Strip. It followed a similar exercise in 2003 where again the agencies took the plan off the shelf and put people into action.

We elect legislators to ensure we have a plan and rely on soldiers, firefighters, police officers, and paramedics to hit the ground running.

It's OK for lawmakers not to know all the ins and outs of the state's emergency plans. But it's not OK for each of us not to know our family plans. We must be responsible for ourselves. Only then will those who put the plans into action on our behalf be able to help us.

If we can take care of ourselves even for a few days they will have time to put out the fires, stop the water and rescue those who need it most.


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