Tahoe steps up preparation for disaster
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks taught Americans disaster knows no boundaries, prompting many local agencies across state lines to dust off or evaluate their emergency plans.
The U.S. Coast Guard has nearly doubled its Tahoe City staff and beefed up patrols watching out for suspicious activity on Lake Tahoe, Cmdr. Jim Devane said Monday.
“Normally, we just don’t do patrols (without calls), but now we are,” Devane said.
The crew of 17 – up seven members from a month ago – is “looking for anything out of the ordinary,” Devane added. He declined to elaborate on specific security measures taken since the attacks.
In addition to the federal unit assigned to national security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation urged local law enforcement agencies to move toward their highest level of alert. The FBI joined the California Office of Emergency Services in its warning.
“They’ve advised us of no credible threats,” said Sheriff’s Dep. Todd Crawford, coordinator of El Dorado County’s OES department.
One of two deputies working for Sgt. Marty Hackett said the department has pulled out its disaster preparedness plan to “see just how vulnerable we are.”
Patrol units make a concerted effort to check key areas of security in the basin such as the water supply outlets. Crawford said the county is working on securing replacement sources of water.
As remote as the terrorist possibility may seem to Tahoe residents, a more likely scenario involves attacks in the San Francisco Bay area just four hours away.
“One of the big concerns is if San Francisco was hit with whatever, then we have an influx of people heading for the hills,” Crawford said.
Local schools are established shelters.
“If that ever happens, we’ll probably need all (the schools). And even then, we couldn’t handle all of (the people),” Hackett said.
The sheer numbers may present a challenge to law enforcement and medical services, but Barton Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Linda Thompson said a system is in place to handle large-scale emergencies.
The hospital participates in annual drills such as the one the city is holding at the Lake Tahoe Airport Wednesday following a mock plane-crash scenario. The drills keep preparedness plans current and re-establish working relationships between emergency response groups, Thompson said.
But while Tahoe agencies have covered the ground for natural disasters, Hackett said more could be done. He would like a regional multiagency task force formed, an idea Supervisor Dave Solaro supports.
Hackett also is counting on county supervisors to approve $38,200 in grant funds to buy emergency response equipment. Another item on Hackett’s wish list includes a larger South Shore regional operations command center. Prior to Sept. 11, local agencies discussed housing a state-of-the-art emergency operations center at a new government complex planned on the Lake Tahoe Community College campus, but no decision has been reached.
As for the private sector, spokesmen for the two largest casinos at the lake – Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Caesars Tahoe – said they have implemented no extra security measures in the event of domestic terrorism.
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