The case for emergency preparedness in Edmonds | Guest View

By Lee Champagne | May 22, 2017

Here in lovely Edmond and western Washington, we haven’t experienced any really big disasters. The biggest threats we’ve faced have been primarily house fires, severe storms, heavy snow, rain, mudslides, road closures, flooding, and strong wind with accompanied power failures.

But since we live in an area susceptible to major and catastrophic earthquakes, we could be in for something much worse, and soon.

The Pacific Northwest is seismically active.

Some may remember the 2001 Nisqually earthquake – 6.8 on the Richter scale – that shook the Puget Sound region from Olympia to Everett. But there is a much bigger threat – one dangerously similar to the devastating 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

We are potentially vulnerable to the effects of a catastrophic 9.0 earthquake from the Cascadia subduction Zone (CSZ), located about 90 miles off the coasts of northern California, Oregon and Washington. This massive quake would cause significant damage and destruction that could extend eastward from the coast of Oregon and Washington to beyond the I-5 and I-405 corridors.

The government is very concerned about the possibility of such a catastrophic event. You may recall last June from news reports about a massive earthquake and tsunami drill called “Cascadia Rising.” Over 20,000 participants from California and Oregon, in partnership with the federal government, including my agency, FEMA, participated in this huge four-day exercise.

We used realistic CSZ damage models, and learned all we needed to become better prepared.

These CSZ damage models show the threat from tsunami to be very slight for us here. However, for Edmonds, Seattle and surrounding areas, we could suffer significant earthquake damage to buildings, roads and bridges.

Many roads would be impassable, and all surface-vehicle transportation could be tightly restricted.

Electrical power would be out, affecting all residences, stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks and ATMs. All phone and cell service, including 911, could be lost. Water and gas mains could be ruptured. Complete restoration could take weeks to months.

So when might this terrible event happen?

According to geologists, a CSZ earthquake has historically occurred cyclically about every 500 years, plus or minus 200 years. The last time was January 26, 1700. We are now in the window of higher probability, 14 percent to 40 percent, of occurrence.

The big question is this: If the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake happened next week, or next month, would you be prepared? What would you do if all utilities were suddenly cut off?

What if you weren’t home and separated from family? How will you find each other? Would they be safe? What if you had to evacuate – where would you go? Who could you turn to for help?

Unfortunately, help may not be on the way.

Our local firefighters, EMTs, police and other first responders do an incredible job of keeping us safe during normal times. But when big disasters strike, they could be overwhelmed and not available to help you.

Here’s the big takeaway: We need to be prepared to take care of ourselves, our families and, if needed, our neighbors and community.

Following every major disaster, people can look back and readily think of many things they wished they knew beforehand that would have made a difference. The good news is that information, often critical to health, safety and survival is available, for any possible emergency that could happen in your community. You just have to look it up. Preparing is a challenge, but not impossible.

What can you do to be better prepared?

Have a disaster plan: Every family should also have a detailed emergency plan to include how to communicate with family members if separated and phones don’t work, how and where to evacuate, how to find safe places to go, how to shut off gas, how to provide for pets, to perform first aid, and to safeguard important documents.

Prepare emergency kits: Every family should have emergency supply kits at home, and in their cars, to include essential supplies, such as: water, food, personal medicines, flash lights/batteries, cash, first aid items, extra clothes, blankets, and other items to be self-sufficient for a minimum of at least two weeks.

Government assistance: It is often very limited. Following disasters, FEMA can provide help directly to eligible individuals in grants up to $33,000 per family, but only if they qualify. Included within that total are temporary lodging and rental expenses, home repair, household-goods replacement, medical, and funeral expenses. To access this assistance, the process starts with a phone call: 800-621-FEMA, or you can go to www.fema.gov.

Get adequate insurance: Every family should have appropriate insurance coverage to prevent the risk of suffering severe financial losses. This cannot be stressed enough, as government assistance is limited. Home and property damage insurance does not cover earthquake or flooding damage, so you’ll need to obtain it separately.

Other things to be safer and better prepared include taking a training class in lifesaving skills (CPR, first aid) or emergency response (CERT), like those given by Snohomish Fire District 1’s community outreach program. Free CPR training is available 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, March 20, at Edmonds Fire Station 17, 275 Sixth Ave. N.

Learn about community response plans, evacuation plans and designated emergency shelters. Ask about the emergency plans and procedures in places you and your family spend time, such as work, schools and child-care centers. If you don’t drive, find out what your community’s plans are for evacuating those without transportation.

Find out how local authorities will warn you of a pending disaster and how they will provide information to you during and after a disaster. Also, learn about NOAA Weather Radio and its alerting capabilities (www.noaa.gov).

In summary, while the potential threats to every community may differ, there are some common elements of personal preparedness. Everyone should be prepared to survive up to 14 days on their own. They should learn what to do before, during and after for any emergency that could occur where they live and work.

For more detailed information go to the following websites: Washington state’s excellent site at www.bit.ly/2pQY8LJ, and FEMA’s preparedness website: www.ready.gov. These websites will help get all the tools you need to prepare.

Get started now.

Be prepared!

Edmonds resident Lee Champagne is chief of FEMA's Mobile Emergency Support for Region 10, located in Bothell.

 

 

 

 

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