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Practice makes perfect at Wilderness Park

A truck crashed in Webb Canyon and burst into flames, sparking a devastating wildfire that is threatening local homes and prompting evacuations.

Actually, that didn’t really happen.

That was the hypothetical scenario Claremont city officials were training for during the biannual emergency training scenario in north Claremont Tuesday afternoon.

The centerpiece of the city’s training operation is the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a massive multi-million dollar fortress on wheels that serves as Claremont’s headquarters in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

On Tuesday, it was all hands on deck inside the EOC, as city officials including City Manager Tara Schultz, Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen and various department heads were at their stations poring over the details of the simulated emergency.

In a real life situation, there wouldn’t be as many people in the EOC, according to city spokesperson Bevin Handel, who was acting as the public information officer for the media.

“We wanted to train everyone,” Ms. Handel said.

On Tuesday, city officials and police donned headsets, gave orders and coordinated efforts to help assess the fake situation as it developed. There were two main rooms in the EOC—one for city officials to coordinate emergency relief, and another for administrators to manage staff and track work hours.

The drill was part of a large collaborative effort by the city, the Claremont Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the LA County Fire Department and a number of other local agencies. The city and the CPD worked out of La Puerta Sports Park, while the fire department roamed the Wilderness Park, which was shut down for three days this week for training.

The EOC, which was purchased by the city for nearly $2 million in 2012, acts as a home base for Claremont in the event of a serious emergency. The EOC was acquired in part because the current police station lacks the county requirements to be an emergency operations center, according to Claremont police Lt. Karlan Bennett.

The command center is unique to Claremont, and Lt. Bennett noted that other cities had “EOC envy.”

The main component inside the EOC is DLAN, short for Disaster LAN, an emergency operations system that helps first responders receive real-time updates on an ever-evolving city emergency.

DLAN’s interface has different windows, with the main window showing “tickets,” or updating snippets of news color-coded on the level of severity. Some of the tickets for the simulated fire included students from the Webb Schools evacuating to the Hughes Center and someone calling in a bomb threat to Taylor Hall.

As city employees were working through the drill, a red ticket popped up, meaning the situation was a top priority. Twelve horses on Glen Way needed to be evacuated.

Lt. Bennett said once the ticket pops up, city employees would contact anyone with the capacity to hold those horses, from Fairplex to the Humane Society to the “local equine community,” who have the space and trailers to help. 

Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor, clad in an orange reflector vest, noted that since the EOC’s purchase, the city had not used it in a real-life situation.

“Thankfully, all our incidents have been smaller,” he said.

Gathered outside the EOC were a group of ten volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), who aid police and fire officials in a number of situations, including setting up evacuation centers and traffic control in the event of an actual emergency.

“It’s one of those things you never want to happen,” CERT volunteer Leigh Buchwald said. “Only in practice.”

—Matthew Bramlett