The County Voice

Shaking Napa: Local Government Responds

I know they are still in the early days of the response and clean up to the Napa Valley earthquake. There may still be bricks in the street, and some people are still in the hospital. Many cannot live in their homes or go to their work place. Schools are just now opening, and the people of Napa County have a lot of recovery work still to do.

While it is still early in this process, two things are becoming clear already. This could have been much worse, and, Napa’s level of preparation for this type of disaster is one of the reasons it wasn’t worse. The level of cooperation and communication among Napa County, the cities affected and the state has been very solid. City and County first responders, often ignoring damage in their own homes, were able to quickly assess the damage, assist those who needed immediate help and, quite literally, put out the initial fires.

For the general public, rattled by the earth’s rumbling and the evident damage, there is nothing quite as settling as seeing firefighters, paramedics, police and sheriffs, doctors and nurses calmly doing their jobs. When the earth moves beneath you (or when the levees fail, or the forest burns,) the professionalism among first responders is so important to restoring a sense of order. Elected officials play a role in that too.

And as a former journalist who’s covered more than enough natural disasters, I have also been impressed with Napa’s response to the news media. It’s easy in the midst of managing this kind of emergency to forget that getting accurate information to the public is one of the most important parts of the response. While the news media can be distracting, it is also a valuable conduit of information to, and sometimes even from the public.

Napa’s leadership and emergency responders have allowed the media to access the damaged areas, and they have provided regular briefings and news releases with the latest official information. This is a critical part of any emergency response. And while there are always things that could have been done better, the information flow from Napa has largely been fast, accurate and informative.

So it’s early. They are still mopping up (literally) after the earthquake in Napa. And when the post-mortem is done on how prepared they were and how well they responded, I am sure they will find some things that could have gone better—that’s a given.

But I think they will also find that preparation does indeed help prevent an emergency from becoming a disaster. The first responders, elected officials and the general public in Napa can all be thankful this wasn’t a bigger earthquake, and they can be proud that they were prepared to manage the aftermath. 

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