California's Golden Guardian emergency preparedness exercise -- which the state said was the largest and most ambitious exercise of its kind in the nation -- is designed to test the state's ability to prevent, respond to and recover from a terrorist attack or catastrophic natural disaster. Today's exercise brought together 1,500 people from over 100 state, local and federal departments in a simulated 7.9 earthquake in San Francisco -- approximately the size of the1906 earthquake. Aftershocks of up to 7.0 were also simulated. In an earthquake of this magnitude San Francisco could lose 37,000 buildings and approximately 5,000 lives.

This was a statewide event. People in Fresno County took part in the simulation by working with volunteers and the Red Cross on housing of simulated evacuees. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also was involved through the simulated use of the National Pharmaceutical Cache to see how to distribute pharmaceuticals both to treat people and as a prophylactic in the case of exposure to biological agents.

As part of the drill, a training area was constructed on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hays-White explained that they "built this prop specifically for Golden Guardian ... we did bring in approximately 1.5 million pounds of cement and debris to simulate a three-story concrete structural collapse with approximately 25 victims." She also noted that with structural collapses such as in this simulation, there are also structure fires to contend with. The structure will remain on Treasure Island for training purposes.

Both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom attended the demonstration at the Treasure Island Facility. "We all know that here in California we are faced with all kinds of potential disasters," Schwarzenegger said. He went on to praise the collaborative effort stating that "the purpose of this exercise is that we see how quickly our various departments can come together and communicate with one another and help each other."

Newsom called on all people to be prepared by having "go bags" ready and learning more about preparedness by going to San Francisco's 72 hours Web site. "This is a very likely scenario, this is real stuff, and this is incredibly important."

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer