Leaders urge emergency preparedness after Japan disaster
March 15, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
The unfolding disaster in Japan — unleashed after a magnitude-9 earthquake struck the island nation — has emergency planners in Issaquah reminding residents to prepare for earthquakes and other calamities.
“This tragedy overseas reminds us that our region is also at high risk from natural disasters,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “The time to prepare is before emergency strikes.”
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan in the afternoon March 11 (late March 10 in Washington and on the West Coast). The death toll could exceed 10,000 people.
The local group spearheading personal emergency preparedness is the Issaquah Citizen Corps Council, a nonprofit organization formed to prepare residents to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.
“The real basic message is: Be prepared,” council President Alan Bramwell said.
The organization is considering additional Community Emergency Response Team classes in the months ahead. The training scheduled to start March 23 is certain to focus on major earthquakes around the Pacific Rim.
“I’m absolutely sure, as we go through our CERT training, which starts next week, what are we going to be talking about on Day 1? Japan and New Zealand,” Bramwell said.
Christchurch, New Zealand, endured a magnitude-6.3 temblor Feb. 22. The earthquake leveled buildings and killed more than 160 people.
The disaster in Japan came less than a month after Issaquah and King County emergency planners used the 10-year milestone since the Nisqually earthquake to trumpet advances in disaster response.
Planners in Issaquah and elsewhere in the region participated in the Sound Shake exercise last fall. The program simulated a magnitude-6.7 earthquake on the Seattle Fault, a shallow fault stretched along Interstate 90 from Seattle and through Issaquah.
City emergency planners and citizens, such as Bramwell, hold regular exercises to prepare residents for a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. The priority is to encourage residents to be self-reliant in the days after a disaster.
“Everyone will call 911, but we don’t have an infinite number of people on the other end of the line to answer those calls,” Bramwell said.
In a catastrophe, firefighters and police officers cannot respond to every caller and if the 911 system failed, residents might also need to fend for themselves.
So, the Issaquah Citizen Corps Council emphasizes simple steps, such as setting aside food and water, and a first aid kit, in order to prepare.
“There’s so much that people can do for themselves and their immediate family, just their household,” Bramwell said.
Radiation risk is minimal
The state Department of Health did not detect any elevated radiation readings in Washington as Japanese authorities struggled to avert meltdowns at earthquake- and tsunami-damaged nuclear power plants.
The state agency is conducting ongoing air monitoring for radiation to determine whether the incident has affected radiation levels.
State Radiation Protection staffers expect no public health risk in Washington, and the monitoring is precautionary. If the situation changes in Washington, the Department of Health plans to inform the public.
State health officials are monitoring the events in Japan, and remain in contact with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency.
The nuclear plant incident in the wake of the earthquake in Japan has raised concerns among some people in Washington about windblown radiation coming across the Pacific Ocean.
Since the disaster March 11, air sample readings in Washington have remained normal. The state-run Radiation Protection Program does not expect any change in environmental measurements taken in Washington.
Even in the event of a significant release from the Japanese reactor, officials said radiation would be diluted before reaching Washington. Moreover, officials said levels would be so low and no protective action would be necessary.
Dan Jaffe, a University of Washington atmospheric chemist, said airborne radiation from Japan is not likely to pose a danger to North America.
“At this point, the levels of radiation released make it very unlikely we could detect anything here,” he said in a release.
The circumstances could change for Washington residents if conditions degrade further at the stricken nuclear reactors.
“If the nuclear incidents turn into a major meltdown and release of radiation, and depending on wind patterns, it could be transported in about seven days,” Jaffe continued. “But even in that case, I would expect enough dilution that there would be no health risk here in the Pacific Northwest.”
What to know
Comcast digital customers in Issaquah and elsewhere in Western Washington — regardless of service level — can watch TV Japan on Channel 245 through March 18. The channel is broadcasting ongoing live news coverage from earthquake- and tsunami-stricken areas in Japan.
Do you know someone impacted by the disaster?
The Issaquah Press is seeking Issaquah and Eastside residents with links to the Japan earthquake and tsunami, as well as relief groups, nonprofits and faith-based groups, and other organizations involved in disaster response.
Readers with family and friends in Japan — as well as on the Washington coast, Hawaii and other affected areas — and organizations working to alleviate suffering in the aftermath of the disaster, can e-mail Editor Kathleen R. Merrill at email@example.com.
AT&T is offering free calls and text messages to Japan through March 31. Verizon is offering free calls and text messages through April 10. Comcast is providing free calls to Japan for Xfinity Voice and Business Class Voice customers. For calls made to Japan from March 11 through April 10, 2011, Comcast plans to remove the charges from customers’ bills.
CERT classes close
Enrollment in the upcoming Community Emergency Response Team training filled up after the disaster in Japan.
Issaquah residents can learn more about emergency preparedness and the Map Your Neighborhood program at the Issaquah Citizen Corps Council website, www.issaquahcitizencorps.com.
CERT courses include disaster first aid training, disaster preparedness, basic firefighting, light search and rescue and damage assessment, plus lessons in how to turn off utilities and the psychology behind a disaster.
Map Your Neighborhood is a program to coordinate disaster recovery on a block-by-block basis, and to identify special skills, such as medical training, among residents.
Prepare for earthquakes
American Red Cross planners offer simple tips for residents to prepare for earthquakes:
- Learn fire evacuation and earthquake plans for all of the buildings you occupy on a regular basis.
- Select safe places in each room of your home, workplace or school. The safe place could be under a piece of furniture, or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture.
- Practice drop, cover and hold in each safe place. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold onto, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
- Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed.
- Keep and maintain an emergency supplies kit in an easy-to-access location.
- Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
- Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall pieces of furniture to wall studs. Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit.
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Place large or heavy items in the cabinets closest to the floor.
- Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home, and keep a wrench handy for use.
- Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land-use codes before you start construction.
- Designate an out-of-area contact, because local lines can be difficult to access during a disaster. In the aftermath of a disaster, family members can call the contact person from out of the area to report on their status and to check on others. A text message from a wireless communication device often works if a cellular signal is not strong enough to make a voice call.
Avoid charity scams
The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan has many people in Washington eager to help victims, but would-be donors should do some research before donating.
Officials at the Charities Division of the Secretary of State’s Office urged people to use caution and to donate to reliable sources.
Though many groups responding to the disaster in Japan rank as long-standing and reputable charities, some might be bogus groups. Charity scams also sprouted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Under state law, anyone who solicits charitable donations in Washington must register with the Secretary of State’s Office, and disclose how much raised money went toward a charitable cause.
The office offers a searchable database of registered charities, www.sos.wa.gov/charities/ search.aspx. People can also check out a charity or a commercial fundraiser by calling the Charities Information Hotline at 1-800-332-GIVE toll free.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.