(preparation for COVID-19)
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Russ Brown, and Mayor Pro Tem, Linda Krupa, to discuss Hemet’s state of emergency; what the city is doing in preparation for what seems the inevitable arrival of COVID-19; how public safety operations and our community are adapting to and practicing “social distancing.”
It was comforting to learn that our city leaders have had experience in emergency situations. Mayor Brown has a 30-year background in law enforcement and has responded to disasters in his time serving the American Red Cross.
Linda Krupa has seen disaster first-hand as she recalls the San Jacinto Flood of the early 1980’s when levees collapsed, and San Jacinto was under water; the area was a panic zone. She says, during that incident, “Within three weeks we could see that things were going to be back to normal. But this [pandemic] is a complete unknown.”
But, preparing to navigate these new “uncharted waters” is exactly what our city leaders have been doing these past couple weeks. Last Monday, March 16th, City Council passed a resolution declaring a state of local emergency for the City of Hemet. Other surrounding cities quickly did the same: Beaumont and Menifee, respectively March 17th and 18th. At the time of this writing, Temecula has not declared a state of emergency. Mayor Brown says the decision was imperative as reports of cases at national, state and county levels increased. With his background, he believes in the importance of anticipating all possible outcomes and being proactive.
Declaring a state of emergency places police, fire and emergency operation centers at peak operational mode to provide the best defense in dealing with the unpredictability associated with a pandemic. It also enhances the City’s ability to recover costs related to responding to and mitigating the emergency situation.
“Who would have thought?” says Brown, “We’re always thinking we’d be dealing with an earthquake or major fire . . . and here we are facing a pandemic.”
To adapt to the nature of this pandemic, public safety services have been proceeding with caution and utilizing “social distancing” wherever possible. The manner in which police, fire and medical now operate have been modified:
“What we’re having to do operationally is pare our services down to what is absolutely essential – police and fire at the top of the list – but even those two departments are having to change their operational activities. Before this happened, you could walk into the lobby of the police station and file a report – you can’t do that now. This is out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our city employees.”
Also changing is the way dispatchers screen calls. They now ask particular questions of a caller; specifics about their health, questions not normally asked as a way to forewarn first responders of someone who may be contagious. Doing so enables them to respond with appropriate measures and safety equipment.
With constant communication between Council, City Manager, Police Chief, Fire Chief and Emergency Services Coordinator, Mayor Brown sees Hemet being in an “enviable position,” especially in regard to Fire Chief, Scott Brown.
“He’s one of three Fire Chiefs who serve on a 2 week-long rotational basis as Operational Area Coordinators for Riverside County and oversees mutual aid needs . . . so he’s constantly getting information from State Office of Emergency Services, Riverside County Health and CDC . . . and with a paramedic background he understands medical necessity. I’m personally very proud to say that we have leadership of that caliber, along with our Police Chief, Eddie Pust, and City Manager, Chris Lopez, serving our city – and the advice that they give.”
I asked Mayor Brown what we can learn from this current state of emergency. He quickly pointed to the fact that we live in earthquake country and have always been advised to prepare to be self-sufficient for two weeks, with food, water and supplies. If everyone had heeded those recommendations, we likely could have prevented the “panic shopping” we’ve recently seen.
“Remember the experience that you had when you went to the store to get something, and the shelves were empty? . . . We should all be prepared in advance and be considerate of other people,” Mayor Brown advocates.
As businesses, schools and venues close and / or adapt to “social distancing,” the city’s revenues will be deeply affected. Moving forward, Krupa and Brown both agree that the city will need to be proactive and fiscally responsible. Brown says, “The things that are ups and extras that we provided routinely, we may not be able to do. Because paring things down to essential services – it’s all going to hinge on what we can afford to do. So, internally, we’re going to have to look at how we provide service: are we doing it pragmatically and efficiently? Are we working within what we can afford?”
The nature of our current state of emergency, here in Hemet, is a microcosm of what the rest of the world is facing. In essence, we are all in this together. In times of crisis and emergency the best aspects of human behavior can be revealed, and it has been evident here in Hemet – especially towards its senior community.
“The outreach on Facebook has been really uplifting in the number of people who will run your errands, take you to the doctor and buy groceries for you . . . and it’s the younger people relating to the senior communities,” says Krupa.
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