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Ref: American Legion members work for disaster preparedness in California

Palisadean Post

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Legion Takes Lead in Disaster Preparedness



February 21, 2007

Sue Pascoe , Staff Writer

In the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake, or a terrorist attack that causes electricity to go out, residents in Pacific Palisades might be forced to rely on their cell phones. If the power stays out for days and access to roadways is blocked by flooding and landslides, residents could have serious problems communicating with the outside world.

'How do you charge your cell phone or run your computer?' asked Bill Branch, Emergency Communications Coordinator for American Legion Post 283 on La Cruz Drive. It's not an idle question, because many people remember that power was out for weeks in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anticipating this potential scenario here and in other urban areas of the country, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA are working to improve ways people can call emergency and first-response numbers in the event of a disaster. This is where the local American Legion comes into play.

Following meetings in late 2004 between Thomas Cadmus, the Legion's national commander, and Tom Ridge, Department of Homeland Security Secretary at the time, the national Legion has been helping to raise public awareness about emergency preparedness, disaster response and volunteer service through its 15,000 Legion Posts across the country.

Post 283 is first addressing the communication issue by establishing an amateur radio service (known as 'ham' radio) that will be capable of operating 24 hours a day during times of power failure throughout the Palisades. If a resident needs emergency assistance, such as medical help, he or she can go to Post 283 (corner of Swarthmore) and use the Legion's ham radio to communicate directly with paramedics.

A kitchen, cots and a generator will enable the radio center to keep running until power is returned to the community.

Branch and Post 283 commander Louis Cozolino met in January with Cadmus, Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Pamela Cummings, management analyst for the City of L.A.'s Emergency Preparedness Department. 'They were enthusiastic because communication is a problem and so far there have been no solutions,' Branch said. 'This is a solution for our town.'

'We really need dedicated hams [amateur radio centers],' Cummings later wrote in an e-mail to Branch. 'The American Legion should be able to dovetail right in because they understand the chain of command, delegation of authority and the usefulness of following the proper protocols. These will be essential in an emergency. You'll be able to minimize panic and a lot of desperation for residents and their distant relatives.'

Local and distant emergency transceivers as well as antennae have been installed at Post 283. 'This station will become a prototype for other American Legion emergency radio stations around the nation,' Branch said.

Future plans include offering instruction to residents who want to become ham radio operators (Flo Elfant, chairman of the town's Disaster Preparedness Committee, has identified 28 operators in the Palisades), preparedness drills and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Both Branch and Cozolino worry that part of the problem is getting Palisadians to understand the severity of the problems that a major disaster will cause and motivate them to prepare.

The American Legion phone is 454-0527. To learn more about the Legion's program, e-mail Bill Branch at wbranch@earthlink.net

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