School, city get the once over from disaster experts

With eyes roaming ceilings and bookshelves, Richard Chew walked the halls of Carson High School on Wednesday, looking for things that could pose a problem for the school in the event of a natural disaster.

A consultant with the IBM Crisis Response Team, Chew and other members of IBM's team are in the area evaluating the disaster preparedness of business and public buildings. Chew was watching for items that could fall from shelves in an earthquake or things that would obstruct escape in a fire. Carson High School fared well in the exam.

"This is well organized and well thought out," Chew said. "They did a good job planning this place."

The Crisis Response Team has been in the Carson/Douglas area for about three weeks, recommending ways for buildings to be made more disaster proof. The team's presence in Carson is paid for with a $10,000 Project Impact grant.

"It's always good to have an independent opinion," said Fred Perdomo, Carson High vice principal. "I live here day in and day out. I along with other administrators see something broken and we try to fix it. We don't always look at things in terms of risk mitigation."

On a tour of the school, Chew recommended placing cords on book shelves to keep books from falling. Many places have bookshelves taller than the average person and could fall in an earthquake, Chew said. Tall bookshelves should be secured to a wall or the floor, but the high school's are short and stabilized.

As he does at most high schools, Chew suggested chaining gymnasium light fixtures to give them extra support in a disaster. Chew complimented a simple utility switch override system which allows school administrators to override computer-controlled lights.

Chew also toured the Carson City Sheriff's Department and vehicle maintenance buildings Wednesday.

IBM's response team generally works with the whims of Mother Nature. Brent Woodworth, IBM Crisis Response Team worldwide segment manager, said he and his team spent weeks at Ground Zero in New York City, providing telecommunications and logistic support in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. IBM has sent the crisis team to 70 major disasters from earthquakes in India to floods and mud slides in Venezuela.

It provided logistic support in Oklahoma City in 1995 and were in Sparks during the 1997 flood, helping the city and damaged businesses interface with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In situations such as this, the team generally tries to help agencies look at ways to spend a little up front to save much more in the face of a disaster, offering "an extra pair of eyes to look for hazards they may not even see.

"For every dollar someone spends in mitigation, they will save $5 to $10 on the recovery cost side," Woodworth said.

Saving money many come in the form of securing cabinets, removing heavy objects from the tops of shelves or treating glass to keep it from shattering.

Renea Louie, director of the Gardnerville St. Gall Community Center, said while her facility is brand new, the Crisis Response team "had ideas about (things) we just often don't realize."

The team suggested putting inexpensive bungee cord barriers in the pantry to keep dishes from crashing to the floor as well as bolting down statues throughout the building.

"They even told us the bolt sizes to bolt them down with," she said.

The Crisis Team was available free to interested businesses and agencies by appointment through a FEMA-funded Project Impact. Carson City received the $300,000 federal grant in 2000 to help the community to plan ways to help mitigate loss of property in a disaster.


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