Preparing for a local disaster is everybody’s job

The Herald’s March 15 editorial, “Preparing for the worst: Not an exercise in futility,” reminded us that we should always be prepared for local disasters. That message may have been overlooked during the coverage of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and evolving radiological contamination.

Our hearts go out to Japan’s citizens affected by the disaster. For many of us, the realization that such tremendous devastation can happen here is new. In many ways Japan looks like the Pacific Northwest — mountainous, heavily populated and industrialized. And in many ways, its people are like us — they live in modern, well-built structures, drive cars like ours, and enjoy a decent standard of living. Yet their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, their communities and their livelihood were taken from them in six deadly minutes of shaking and in 30-foot-high walls of water traveling at jet speed.

Those of us who live here face the same challenges as the Japanese. We are blessed by a natural beauty that masks our vulnerabilities. We live in the earthquake-prone “Ring of Fire,” adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, in and around heavily populated areas.

Earthquakes strike suddenly and often times violently, with little warning. Identifying potential hazards in your community and home well ahead of time, combined with advanced planning, can save lives and significantly reduce injuries and property damage.

As preparedness, response and recovery professionals, we play an important role in ensuring that communities are ready before disaster strikes. A critical element of our jobs is to teach families how to stay safer when facing earthquakes and other emergencies. Families and neighborhoods are the most important components of community preparedness and response. As the world collectively witnessed in Japan and after Hurricane Katrina, first responders simply cannot be everywhere.

Our law enforcement, fire service and public works personnel (the backbone of our first responder community) will rightfully and dutifully respond first to communities of our most vulnerable — hospitals, schools, senior residence facilities, etc. They can rightfully be expected to concentrate their efforts in areas that they can reach in a timely fashion and with the largest number of vulnerable individuals.

That is the point where we need your help.

Your responsibility, your family’s responsibility and your neighborhood’s responsibility is to prepare to care for each other — not just for one to three days, but for a minimum of one week. Do you have enough water? What if there is no power — does your water come from a well? Do you have food stored? What about first aid and disaster packs? How will you care for the most vulnerable members of your family and neighborhood?

Because we live in a region at risk, it is particularly vital that we all work to keep our community safe by preparing for earthquakes and other emergencies before they happen.

Please take a few moments to discuss these simple, common-sense preparedness steps with your family and the ones you love:

•Create and practice a home earthquake plan: Pick safe places in every room — under a sturdy table or desk or against an inside wall — where nothing can fall on you. Practice drop, cover and hold in each safe place. If there’s no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases and tall furniture.

Prepare your home: Bolt and brace water heaters, gas appliances and tall furniture to wall studs. Hang heavy items away from beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit. Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation. Keep sturdy shoes by your bedside.

Create an emergency preparedness kit: Pack a first aid kit, essential medications, canned food, manual can opener, bottled water, flashlights and a battery-powered radio with extra batteries. Keep your kit in an easy-to-access location.

During an earthquake: Drop, cover and hold on. Stay away from windows and glass. Stay indoors until after the shaking stops. If you are outside when the shaking starts, find a clear spot (away from buildings, power lines, trees, streetlights, etc.) and drop to the ground; stay there until the shaking stops. If you’re driving, pull over to a clear location and stop.

After an earthquake: Expect potential aftershocks, landslides, or even a tsunami. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover and hold on. Inspect your home for damage and get everyone out if your home is unsafe. Listen to a portable, battery-operated or hand-crank radio for updated emergency instructions.

For more information, please contact either of the following sources: www.redcross.org; www.whodependsonyou.com.

Submitted by Dave DeHaan, City of Everett director of emergency management; Rochelle James, Tulalip Tribes emergency manager; Chuck Morrison, executive director, American Red Cross Snohomish County Chapter; and John Pennington, director, Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

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