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Diablo emergency requires more preparation 

County officials say they agree with parts of a recent grand jury report, Diablo Canyon: San Luis Obispo's Katrina?, which highlights concerns over evacuation routes from Avila Beach, evacuation of residents with disabilities and special needs, and potassium iodide availability during a possible disaster at the nuclear power plant.

The Board of Supervisors discussed the required official response to the grand jury report at their meeting on March 13, at which staff from the county Office of Emergency Services presented their conclusions.

Discussion centered on a possible emergency exit route from Avila Beach along Cave Landing Road, across the bluff to Bluff Drive in Shell Beach.

"It's passable on foot, but there's no way it's [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant.

You have to be fairly agile," county engineer

Glen Priddy told the meeting, adding that the rough road was washed out a decade ago by a large landslide.

Rebuilding the geologically unstable road to make it passable for vehicles would cost $5 million to $6 million, and would also require cooperation from the Coastal Commission, the City of Pismo Beach, and the Shell Beach neighborhood where the road would end, supervisors were told.

"Just to connect the dots, parks staff are working on a grant-funded trail for recreation and access. It's a challenging procedure, but we're working on it now," said San Luis Obispo County Parks Director Pete Jenny.

Emergency planning for people with special needs was also discussed especially for people who don't live in licensed county facilities. The Office of Emergency Services is planning a public workshop in June to reach more special-needs residents and their caretakers to discuss emergency response and self-sufficiency.

County officials have asked people who require assistance to evacuate to submit a "special needs card," which will be kept on file at fire stations and other facilities and will include details of their disability.

"Are they deaf and can't hear the alarm? Are they blind or wheelchair-bound? Last year we expanded the special needs cards to the whole county, for anybody who would like special assistance to evacuate," county staff told supervisors.

During the public comment period, Eric Greening said the disabled registration card program seemed like "Big Brother," but Supervisor Jerry Lenthall said he disagreed with that assessment.

"Let us know so we can help you evacuate," Lenthall said.

County officials also agree with the grand jury's assessment that all local residents need to plan for being self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, pointing out that there's information readily available on local, state, and federal websites and the AT&T phone book "First Aid and Survival Guide" in the white pages.

The grand jury report states that liquid potassium iodide especially prepared for infants and children, the most vulnerable population to radiation, is not readily available. The local Office of Emergency Services agreed with the finding, and reported that it will "strongly encourage" the state office to stockpile the chemical, which is often referred to by its chemical identifier of KI.

The county health officer, Greg Thomas, wrote in his response to the grand jury report that he agrees with the recommendation that an information sheet about potassium iodide should be prepared for distribution to county obstetricians and pediatricians.

"An updated memo and fact sheet will be sent to all obstetricians and pediatricians in San Luis Obispo in the next two months, and placed on the county Health Agency Web site," Dr. Thomas wrote.

Potassium iodide prevents the uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid to help prevent thyroid cancer, but "it is neither a 'radiation pill' nor a medicine 'to build up immunity to radiation,'" Dr. Thomas wrote in a memo to county physicians.

It was also pointed out that decontamination centers at Camp Roberts and in Santa Maria will distribute potassium iodide during an emergency.

"We know you need to take it quickly, so Dr. Thomas won't say, 'Go home and get it, and then evacuate,'" a staff member said.


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