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Island residents get schooled in disaster preparedness

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Erin Ewing, a volunteer with the Mercer Island Radio Operators, checks inventory at the emergency supply container at Islander Middle School last Friday.  -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Erin Ewing, a volunteer with the Mercer Island Radio Operators, checks inventory at the emergency supply container at Islander Middle School last Friday.
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What would you do if an earthquake struck while you were at Costco, with heavy pallets stacked high above your head? How much water does a person require per day in aftermath of a disaster? Why shouldn’t you use candles during a power outage?

Disaster preparedness educator Lisa Scott, provided some answers to the community’s most pressing questions last Wednesday during an all hazards emergency preparedness class at the community center as part of Emergency Preparedness Week.

In the wake of last winter’s storms, Scott discussed the implications of a variety of emergencies. However, she stressed that preparing for an earthquake is most crucial. Considering that Washington state has the third highest threat of earthquake in the United States (after Alaska and California), Scott said it is particularly important to consider how you and your family are equipped for an emergency.

“If you are prepared for an earthquake, you are prepared for any disaster,” she said.

The keys to preparedness are four-fold: knowing how to be safe, having a family communications and reunion plan, organizing a disaster supplies kit, and lastly, organizing your neighborhood.

“You have to identify potential disasters first,” said Scott. She reiterated the importance of practicing “drop, cover and hold,” in an earthquake and corrected some common misconceptions.

“Don’t ever get in a doorway during an earthquake,” she said. “It makes you standing target for moving objects and you can pinch your fingers in a moving door. Plus, everyone in the room is not going to fit in the doorway.”

She also said that if you have children, take your quake-safe action first, though it might go against parents’ first instincts.

“You’re not going to be able to help your children at all if you get injured trying to run to them during the shaking,” she said. Luckily, most children are taught “drop, cover and hold” and other lifesaving behaviors at school.

A moderate-to-major earthquake can severely cripple a community. Though building collapse is rare in the U.S., a quake can knock out utilities such as water, sewer and electricity, it can damage roadways and bridges and disable telephone systems, leaving communities literally and figuratively in the dark for days.

“King County has the No. 1 emergency response agency in the country,” said Scott. “We’re used to calling 911 and getting help when we need it. But in an emergency, agencies will be overwhelmed and unable to respond.”

One of the most important things you can do after a disaster, is refrain from calling 911 unless it is a life-threatening emergency.

“Stay off the phones for a few hours, and then try calling an out-of-state contact. Leave local lines open for emergencies,” she said. “Especially, don’t call in to report the disaster. If it’s something like an earthquake, they will definitely already know about it.”

Post-disaster, she said, make sure your family has a plan and every member knows it. Also, have a disaster kit filled with enough water for everyone; according to standards, that is one gallon of water, per person per day. Scott recommends that enough food and water for three days is necessary, but the longer the better.

She also recommends updating your emergency kit with some fresh supplies when you set clocks back in the fall and forward in the spring. Scott said this is an easy way to remember to check up on emergency preparedness in a variety of ways, including testing smoke alarms and replacing batteries.

Along with family preparedness, Scott discussed emergency systems on a neighborhood and city-wide scale. Ideally each neighborhood should have a captain and several groups dedicated to specific tasks, such as radio operation or health teams.

“We can’t do anything to stop disasters,” said Scott. “But we can mitigate the effects of them.” Local and neighborhood organizations are instrumental in a disaster, she said.

For information about neighborhood organization, contact Rebecca Clark, the city’s emergency preparedness coordinator at 236-3576. Clark can also provide a “Family Emergency Preparedness Plan” booklet, which is full of useful checklists and tips.

Are you ready?

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Islanders who wanted to be sure they were ready for the next disaster, were first shown graphic reminders of the devastation of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.

The take home message from the two featured speakers; have enough supplies to be comfortable, confident and available to help those in need after a disaster.

“We don’t want to talk about the past and what we should have done,” Redmond Fire Department Chaplain Pat Hamman said. “We’re here to talk about how we can change the future.”

Accompanying Hamman was emergency preparedness filmmaker Michael Linau. Together they urged the audience to pass the information to their friends and neighbors.

“What would be Mercer Island’s Katrina?” Hamman asked the crowd. “It wouldn’t be a windstorm. That was just an exercise. I would be a Seattle Fault earthquake during a windstorm,” he said. “And it’s possible that could happen.”

Linau, who was a 20-year-old cameraman thinking about Hollywood when Mount St. Helens blew, said he went to the volcano because “he had a feeling something big was going to happen.” He and a camera crew were dropped on the mountain after the first big blast and nearly died in a subsequent eruption.

During the ordeal, as told in his documentary film, “The Fire Below Us,” Linau and the other cameramen got lost and were stranded for four days after their compasses failed from the gases and metals suspended in the air. Rescuers said they were surprised when they found them alive. “I learned my lesson,” Linau told the crowd.

His experience on Helens led him to create a series of DVDs about disaster preparedness and the volcanic and seismic threats of the Northwest.

Linau, who lives on Camano Island, teamed up with Hamman to make instructional videos about disaster preparedness.

“I scare them,” Linau said, “then he helps the audiences learn to prepare.”

During the presentation, Hamman asked if local schools were prepared.

According to Erin Ewing, a mother of three students and volunteer with the Mercer Island Radio Operators, the schools are a safe place to be. Nine schools have emergency supply containers and every sixth grader purchases an $8 survival kit that last until high school graduation.

“The schools are probably the most prepared,” Ewing said. “Each classroom has a bucket full of supplies in case of a lock-down or an emergency so they can stay in their individual rooms. And if there is a fire, the students can carry the containers out with them.”

Ewing, also a mother of three Island students, said each student purchases an $8 individual survival kit in the sixth grade that last until they graduate.

The supplies are reserved for students but if the disaster did not occur during school hours, the containers could assist about 2,000 of the Islands 22,000 residents.

The containers have large tents to set up make-shift hospitals as well as radios for emergency communications operated by MIRO volunteers.

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