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June 1, 2012

OCTA CEO: Is your agency ready for the ‘big one’?

by Will Kempton

This month Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) joined public agencies across California in the Golden Guardian exercise — an annual emergency training event through the California Emergency Management Agency that helps prepare cities, hospitals, first responders, schools, transportation agencies and others to respond in crisis situations.

This year, the scenario that unfolded was a 7.8 earthquake along the San Andreas fault. Information from the first reports, ongoing response and recovery were simulated while participants discussed issues that would be considered in such a situation. Various agencies participated to varying degrees.

At OCTA, we included people at all levels of the organization, from executive management to those responding in the field, so that our team could understand each individual’s role and refine our ability to respond in the event of an emergency.

Exercises such as the Golden Guardian give agencies an opportunity to uncover knowns in emergency plans and identify what they can change now — before an earthquake or other emergency — to avoid catastrophic impact after an initial crisis occurs.

In the last year, OCTA has placed an increased focus on emergency preparedness and training. The efforts have ranged from overhauling the Emergency Operations Plan, to tabletop and full-scale exercises. More than 20 training events have been held for frontline personnel, preparing our employees for numerous scenarios that would require an emergency response.

Natural and manmade disasters are an unfortunate reality for which we have to prepare. And while we do everything possible to prevent any kind of incident from occurring, we ultimately will be judged by how quickly and effectively we respond to the situation. Reacting too late to tragic events can have disastrous impacts on the public.

It is vital that we not only have current emergency response plans in place, but our employees understand how to carry out those plans so we can effectively respond to the needs of the public in a crisis situation.

The Golden Guardian event is a great reminder to all of us to dust off that Emergency Operations Plan that is resting on the bookshelf.


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