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7.0 fake quake near Brawley kicks off disaster drill


Staff Writer

Shortly before 8:30 a.m. Monday, Brawley Fire Chief Fred Contreras was sitting calmly in his office attending to business.

Within minutes all that changed after a call came in that an earthquake registering 7.0, with its epicenter 10 miles north of Brawley, had hit the county.

You can be excused if you didn't feel the earth move Monday morning. This was not the real thing but an annual countywide disaster exercise and it was Brawley's turn to "host" the annual exercise known, this time as Operation Tilt.

"This is when we put into action our emergency operations center and it's not so much as to test the personnel and their knowledge; the point is to test the system to see how well it works and where we can make improvements," Contreras said as he strode purposefully toward the firehouse command center with a two-way radio to his ear and a cell phone at the ready.


The mock emergency involved all departments within the city as well as schools, hospitals and even some local medical clinics, Contreras said

As key city personnel began to arrive for a first briefing at the firehouse, emergency response teams were already on the grounds at Barbara Worth Junior High School treating "injured" students and staff.

Eighth-grader Kaysi Howington, sporting a realistic plastic leg wound, was in the process of being strapped to a backboard and having her neck immobilized by emergency medical technicians as school staff member Jessie Ybarra knelt by the 14-year-old's side taking notes on her injuries.

Close by, physical education teacher Julie Steimel was busy marshaling the "walking wounded" for transportation to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley.

Adding a realistic touch to the exercise, an EMT directed the children to board a school bus for the trip to the hospital after he was advised there were no ambulances immediately available.

"This is interesting to see how things would really happen in an emergency," was 14-year-old-eighth grader Sara Leptich's take on the action as she sat on the school bus nursing her bandaged arm.

Acknowledging that students appeared to be treating the exercise with a high degree of seriousness, Steimel said, "Yes, the kids have been real positive. They've got the emergency drill down pat now because of all the work we've done with our regular drills … and I think events in the last couple of years at schools around the nation have been an eye-opener for them. They realize the need to take these things seriously."

Back at the emergency operation center, Contreras and his team were in high gear, marshaling all the community's available resources — even down to bringing into play a local construction company's front-end loaders and dump trucks to help remove debris in the rescue scenarios.

"This is an important way of showing our community that we are prepared and ready to assist them in their needs if there was a large-scale emergency," the fire chief said. "It also lets us know if we are lacking in certain areas and where we might benefit from more training or if we have a need for more equipment."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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