Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Is a Drill. This Is Not a Drill.

Part of my job is practicing for disaster. Any kind of catastrophe that you can imagine, except for tornadoes, we are prepared for. It's a lot of pretending so that when the real disaster comes - an earthquake, a fire, an outbreak of a deadly virus - we know what to do.

Yesterday, I was in Irvine, part of a dress rehearsal for a drill scheduled for September, during which we will pretend there's been some kind of calamity at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station - which we call SONGS. All the while, serious representatives from FEMA will be standing over our shoulders, making notes on a clipboard. We get downgraded if we slip up. Like not giving the correct address of the evacuation center, or not saying "This is a drill" at the start and finish of every conversation.

"Good morning. This is a drill. My name is Elizabeth Fitzsimons and I'm representing the County of San Diego. The County has declared a local emergency and established an evacuation and decontamination center at Carlsbad High School...This is a drill."

Even when I called our County's Emergency Operations Center to ask a question.

"EOC. This is Yvette. This is a drill."

"Hi, Yvette. This is Elizabeth. This is a drill."

You get the idea.

Around noon as we were giving our third pretend news conference to the pretend news media, a SONGS representative stepped up to the microphone.

"This is not a drill," he said gravely.


No, we just stood there and waited.

Turns out, someone at SONGS, who was simply to pretend sounding the sirens that tells residents of the seaside town of San Clemente to run for their lives, actually sounded them.

So we had to suspend the drill to allow the the public information officers from San Clemente and SONGS to put together a news release telling the residents of San Clemente that, no, they did not need to evacuate. I imagined the release's headline: NEVERMIND; OUR BAD.

Not sure what the FEMA man with the clipboard thought of this, but it certainly made the day more interesting. And now we are prepared for the event of the nuclear power plant's alarm going off when it's not supposed to.

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