Citizens help others prepare for disasters
April 5, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
In Issaquah, a city of more than 30,000 people, only a handful of the population has completed the most rigorous training to respond to disasters.
The unfolding disaster in Japan — caused after a magnitude-9 earthquake rocked the island nation early last month — renewed attention on emergency preparedness on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Even in a city as focused on preparedness as Issaquah, some gaps remain in the system.
The city has spearheaded lessons in Map Your Neighborhood — a program to coordinate disaster recovery on a block-by-block basis and identify special skills, such as medical training, among residents — for dozens of neighborhoods, although less then 300 people had completed the more rigorous program, Community Emergency Response Team training, by mid-March.
City and independent emergency planners said the numbers belie the effect of trained responders, especially as CERT members start to educate family members and neighbors in disaster preparedness and response.
“Now, instead of nine firefighters and a handful of police officers and some public works people being available, you’re looking at hundreds of people affecting thousands of people,” said Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director. “That goes a long way to response and also getting us on the path to recovery.”
Carol Dunn, Woodinville-based emergency preparedness expert, credited the nonprofit Issaquah Citizen Corps Council for taking a lead role in educating residents about disaster response.
“What a boon for Issaquah, because it means that you’ve got an engaged citizenry,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of individuals and they are actively working right now.”
Citizens supplement city
Map Your Neighborhood is designed to reach a broader audience then CERT training. Map Your Neighborhood introduces residents to each other and offers basic skills for self-sufficiency during and after a disaster.
Autumn Monahan, the city spokeswoman and the official responsible for updating information during a natural disaster or other emergency, said the city is starting to track the number and location of people participating in Map Your Neighborhood.
CERT and Map Your Neighborhood participants can assist professional emergency responders and multiply the effect throughout the community.
“We’re all going to experience the earthquake together,” Dunn said. “You experience it whether you’re prepared or whether you train or not. If you’ve done the training and if you are prepared, well, you’re automatically in the role of helper from that point on. The fact is that your recovery from the earthquake is a lot faster if you are the helper versus someone who is thinking, ‘I must be helped.’”
The sharp Issaquah Citizen Corps Council, she added, is a key piece in helping residents to recover from a catastrophe.
“They supplement what a local emergency management office can do,” Dunn said.
Issaquah leaders hired a city emergency management coordinator and a communications coordinator, Monahan, in 2008. The city acted after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and the 2006 Chanukah Eve windstorm caused havoc in the region. Other disasters — such as the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina — also influenced the decision.
“All of those events can bring some attention to the situation we face here in Washington,” state Emergency Management Division spokesman Rob Harper said.
The risk is real
Moreover, Washington experiences a federal disaster declaration at least once per year.
“For those who say, ‘Well, it can’t happen here,’ frankly, we have a pretty good frequency of them,” Harper added.
In addition to potential damage from ground shaking, Issaquah faces landslide and liquefaction hazards during temblors. Residents could confront damaged infrastructure, such as utilities and roads, in the aftermath — and a long delay before life returns to normal.
“If you experience that kind of an earthquake, you’re going to see major disruption in your transportation corridors,” Harper said.
Dunn, also a disaster risk official in the Bellevue Office of Emergency Management, said the humanitarian crises after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan came despite careful planning.
“Japan really is the most-prepared country with the most-prepared citizenry, and despite that fact, the government can’t reach everyone,” she said.
Hillman Mitchell, director of the King County Office of Emergency Management, said the catastrophe in Japan served as a stark reminder to prepare.
“We can’t stop disasters from happening, but we can prepare to survive them,” he said in a statement. “Now is a perfect time to think about what you would do if a large disaster were to strike our region.”
Though the earthquake in Japan attracted attention to seismic risks in the Puget Sound region, planning for tremors also means planning for other types of potential disasters.
“If you prepare for the earthquake, you’re going to prepare for a lot of the other hazards as well,” Harper said. “Many of the steps are similar.”
‘Be mentally prepared’
Stockpiling supplies is crucial, planners said, but residents should also create a plan to reach family members and know the steps to follow if a disaster strikes.
“You can have all of the supplies that you want, but you do need to be mentally prepared for the unexpected,” Heath said.
Issaquah municipal government, for instance, tests disaster-response plans and then corrects overlooked areas.
“You can get paralyzed if you don’t know what to do at first,” Heath said. “So, if you have that plan in place that says, ‘OK well, my plan says the first thing I’m going to do is’ whatever your plan says, then you do that and the plan says, ‘The next thing I’m going to do is this’ and you do that thing. That gets you started, and once you get started, that’s a very helpful and important piece. Then, you can adjust, because you’re going to have to adjust.”
In addition, homeowners and property owners should focus on seismic upgrades to older buildings. The un-reinforced structures face a greater risk amid a temblor.
“The assumption is that the earthquake will happen so late that, naturally, everything will be up to code in time — and what a gamble that is,” Dunn said.
Planners said a major earthquake in the region is a strong possibility, especially as geologists accumulate more knowledge about the geology beneath the region and discover faults crisscrossing the area.
“I don’t want there to be an earthquake. I hope there’s not an earthquake,” Dunn said. “The more I learn about the geology of this area, the more I realize that it’s so beautiful here because of the geological history.”
On the Web
Find a complete emergency kit checklist from 3 Days, 3 Ways at www.3days3ways.org. Find more information about emergency planning from the King County Office of Emergency Management at www.kingcounty.gov/prepare. The state Emergency Management Division offers information about how to prepare gradually during one year at www.emd.wa.gov/preparedness/prep_prepare_year.shtml.
Preparing is as easy as 1-2-3
April is Disaster Preparedness Month, and the King County Office of Emergency Management encourages residents to prepare:
1) Make a plan
Families should plan how to communicate after disasters:
Establish at least one out-of-area contact. The contact should be someone out-of-state, and each family member can contact him or her to communicate.
Texting can work, even if phone calls cannot be completed.
If a disaster damages cellphone towers, landline calls may work.
Establish a meeting place near the home, so family members can meet if the home is unsafe.
2) Build a kit
Planners said residents should keep a minimum three-day supply of the following items:
- Ready-to-eat food
- Water (1 gallon per day, per person)
- Medications and personal hygiene items
- Radio (battery-powered or hand-crank style)
- Extra batteries
- Sturdy shoes and warm clothing
- Dust mask
3) Get involved
- People can build resilient communities by encouraging individuals to work together:
- Get to know neighbors. For instance, a trusted friend next door can watch your property, your children and your pets if a disaster keeps you from getting home.
- Volunteer to serve on a local Community Emergency Response Team. CERT groups receive training and resources to help address immediate needs, until emergency personnel can respond.
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and basic first aid.
State plans earthquake drill April 20
April is Disaster Preparedness Month — no fooling.
The month of activities focused on preparedness includes a statewide earthquake drill.
The statewide drop, cover and hold earthquake drill is scheduled for 9:45-10 a.m. April 20, as a part of a regular monthly test of the Emergency Alert System.
“I encourage all citizens to increase their knowledge and awareness of proper safety measures to follow before, during and after a disaster,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a Disaster Preparedness Month proclamation.
Remember: In temblors, drop, cover and hold
King County emergency planners set out to correct misinformation spreading on the Web about the best method to take cover in earthquakes.
The county Office of Emergency Management recommends the drop, cover and hold method as the safest bet.
Information about the “triangle of life” started to circulation in email messages and on the Web in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake.
Experts, from medical doctors to international search and rescue teams, agree. The drop, cover and hold move is the likeliest method to reduce injury and death during earthquakes.
Planners consider alternate methods — such as standing in a doorway, running outside, and searching for a potential “triangle of life” — as dangerous and not to be recommended.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.