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Preparing for the worst

Newport Beach employees simulate having just hours to evacuate city in event of a tsunami.

March 27, 2014|By Hannah Fry
  • Planning Sections Chief Kevin Kitch, standing left, Newport Beach Fire Department assistant chief, coordinates with other members of the Planning Section during an emergency response drill held at Newport Beach City Hall on Thursday. Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Alaska earthquake and tsunami.
Planning Sections Chief Kevin Kitch, standing left,… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Nearly 50 city employees wearing color-coded emergency vests sat underground in the Emergency Operations Center at the Newport Beach Civic Center on Thursday morning simulating their roles in the event of a natural disaster.

Each year, the city conducts an emergency drill to make sure all employees are prepared for even the worst scenarios, said Katie Eing, emergency services coordinator with the Newport Beach Fire Department.

Employees prepare for disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and fires, among other situations.

This year, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Alaskan earthquake and tsunami, police, city staff and fire officials activated the Emergency Operations Center as they would if a tsunami were to hit the coast.

Newport Beach is one of seven coastal cities in California that participated in the drill this year.

The fact that a significant amount of time has elapsed since the last major natural disaster locally means that it's even more important for people to be prepared, Eing said.

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It's been 20 years since a sizable earthquake hit Northridge, causing massive amounts of damage to the city, and 50 years since the Alaskan earthquake and resulting tsunami.

"It's not a matter of if but when something like this is going to happen," she said. "This is a way for us to make sure that we're ready."

Representatives from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, Orange County Transportation Authority and the Irvine Police Department were also present to observe the preparedness routine.

When the earthquake was announced just after 8:30 a.m., staff began preparing for the tsunami that was expected to hit the coast by 11 a.m. with tides reaching 7 feet.

In the event of a tsunami, city officials' first priority is getting everyone to designated relief areas in Newport Beach and neighboring cities.

"What we're doing is bringing order to a chaotic city in this situation," said Newport Beach Fire Chief Scott Poster.

Newport Elementary School, which sits next to the beach on the Balboa Peninsula, would be hit the hardest of the district's schools if a tsunami were to strike the coast, according to data provided by the city.

The district practices its evacuation plan once a year, said Principal Rich Rodriguez.

"It's not as anxiety ridden as it would seem," he said.

Still, district officials used the drill as an opportunity to discuss their plan and fine tune details with city employees.

"They invited us to join so we're better prepared in case a disaster were to happen," said Ann Huntington, assistant superintendent of student services. "We have students in the impact zone that we would want to get out quickly and safely."

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