Get Ready: Where do you go if disaster strikes Kern County?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) As Kern County emergency responders draw up plans for what they'll do if there's a disaster in our area, families can also plan ahead for how and where they would get to safety.

The county fire department has a website with specific plans and advised routes, and it's a good idea to figure that out before there's a problem.

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"You do a little bit of homework first," Kern County Fire Department spokesman Sean Collins suggests. "Go and play with the website."

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For example, problems with the Lake Isabella dams are one concern. The county's got plans for what residents can do to get away from areas that are projected to fill with flood water, if something happens.

On the fire department website, go to "operations," then "emergency plan." Next, use the "Isabella Dam" tab, and then go to "evacuation zones."

If the dams failed when the lake was at capacity, a U.S. Corps of Engineers analysis shows water would come down the Kern River and spread across a wide area of Bakersfield and beyond. In this case, residents have to safely get to higher ground. The county's divided the area into different zones, showing safe routes to safe areas.

Collins printed out the map for the central zone, and looked at the red arrows showing recommended roadways. "These direct us eastwards along Edison Highway, and up toward Tehachapi, toward higher ground," he explains. Some roads, won't work. Collins says some may be quickly under water.

If people need to evacuate, they'll get the word from emergency responders. Kern County Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong says they have plans with various levels of danger and response.

With the example of a problem at the Lake Isabella dam, the Level I response is the first notification to the public that something could be wrong.

Level II is to get ready, in case.

"Something has changed," at the dams, Armstrong explained. "Something is not what we expected."

If physical changes are found at the dam, that raises the response to Level III, and emergency response crews get in place.

"We're going to set up shelters," Armstrong said. "We're going to start with our traffic plans, we're going to start moving people out of the way."

Recommended evacuation comes at Level IV. The plan calls for activating warning sirens in the communities of Lake Isabella and Bodfish. In Bakersfield, hospitals would start evacuations and traffic control would be put in place.

At Level V, all the response organizations are fully mobilized to help with evacuation.

Armstrong says an additional plan looks at evacuating people with disabilities. She said they're coordinating response with Golden Empire Transit, North of the River Recreation District, and National Association for People with Disabilities. Those groups can help provide the "accessible vehicles" to get people to safety.

The county's identified facilities where people with "access and functional needs" might be, but it will take longer to evacuate them. And while that will help those in places like hospitals, disabled people in private homes will need to plan ahead for safe evacuation.

From the fire department, Collins echoed that.

"Each family should have a preplanned idea of where they're going to go," he said. That's any and every family. That's the key to getting ready to get to safety.