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Beverly Hills gets ready for worst case

Beverly Hills volunteers have been gathering emergency supplies inside a storage facility like squirrels storing nuts.

Using a password-protected computer in the community's civic center, the volunteers _ members of the almost 2-year-old Beverly Hills Emergency Network _ also have been gathering health information on every resident of their community so emergency responders would know who needed help most during a disaster.

The network, led by eight Beverly Hills Civic Association members, discussed its efforts with the County Commission on Tuesday, hoping to urge other communities in Citrus to undertake similar projects.

It all started when a Beverly Hills resident learned how unprepared the community was after joining a Citrus County Sheriffs Office-led citizens group that trains for disasters. She shared her findings with the Beverly Hills Civic Association. The association commissioned the emergency network, also known as BHEM.

"Many of you are retired and could be playing golf," County Commission Chairman Josh Wooten said Tuesday, applauding the network volunteers. "But you all decided to serve the community."

Past a magnetic-key entrance in Diamond Self Storage near County Road 491, in a floor-sensor lit gray hallway, is unit No. 573.

Doug Vollmer, co-director of the fledgling emergency network, unlocked a blue garage door and raised it to expose the network's storeroom.

The triangular unit, donated by Diamond, holds a paltry amount of supplies, network members acknowledge, but it's a start nonetheless.

"This is very meager for what we have to do someday," said Bill Dowell, a network member. "It's in its infancy."

A plastic container, marked "dry goods," contains a bag of cotton balls, a few boxes of latex gloves, sterile pads and ACE bandages, as well as boxes of bandages.

Another box, marked "liquids," contains 10 bottles of hydrogen peroxide and three bottles of rubbing alcohol.

There's also a box of pencils and pencil sharpeners, a roll of paper towels, colored notepads (to mark the wounded), a dozen D-size batteries, a portable lamp, a tube of anti-itch cream, toothpaste, two aspirin bottles, a chain saw, a box of twine and water containers.

Nearby is a bag of diapers.

"They can be used as compresses," said Vollmer, his yellow shirt bearing a patch with the network's symbol, hands shaking above a crosshair framing the following dangers: burning house, flooding house, lightning bolt and trees bowed by heavy wind.

The items in the storeroom were all donated by Beverly Hills residents.

"Plane crash, forest fire, terrorist attack, tanker blows up on (County Road) 491," Dowell said. "We don't know what we're preparing for."

"It's an insurance policy we don't want to cash in," Vollmer added.

Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent messages from the Department of Homeland Security have made neighborhood groups think about disaster. It's an effort the department applauds, even in tiny Beverly Hills, where the 1993 no-name storm last brought communitywide danger.

"Just the effort and just the start of thinking on those lines is encouraging," said Lauren Stover, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Beverly Hills network has also stockpiled profiles of almost 500 residents, after sending out questionnaires asking the almost 14,000 residents for health information. Some questions include whether they live alone, need oxygen and have trouble walking and who their nearest relative contacts are.

The information, stored at the civic association, could be used by emergency responders to get to those who need help most first. The civic association hopes everyone in Beverly Hills will respond to the surveys, which members promise will be kept confidential.

Dowell, who is 80, was one of the first to answer the questions. He lived for years in New Hampshire, now famous for its "Live Free or Die" motto, where the network volunteer said he learned the importance of communities preparing for disasters, independent of public agency assistance.

He doesn't have any current health problems, but suffered a heart attack after his wife underwent back surgery some years ago. A previous wife, he said, died of cancer, and the experiences remind him to brace himself and prepare others for the worst.

"You can either be a helper or a victim," Dowell said.