Community Emergency Preparedness Presentation

Community Preparedness Program, January 31, 2013

Regional representatives of the American Red Cross and Head Start collaborated to present a Community Preparedness Program which was held at Phoenix High School’s Rose Theatre on January 31, 2013.  Attendance was surprisingly high and it was heartening to see many neighbors gathering knowledge about what to do in at least ten possible emergency scenarios.

The audience was provided a Red Cross pamphlet with a great wealth of information, and an American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter “Ready or Not Quiz” (attached) for us to peruse while everyone got settled.  Thankfully all the answers to the quiz were either in the pamphlet or discussed by a wonderful group of panelists later in the evening.  After taking the quiz, many of us in the audience realized how unprepared we actually were!  The pamphlet, titled “Together We Prepare Oregon” and quiz can be picked up at our Southern Oregon Red Cross Chapter, 1600 Hawthorne Street in Medford, or  accessed online at  .

After an introduction of Head Start’s Phoenix Bilingual Family Advocate Tori  Bostwick, who was largely responsible for organizing the event, we heard a brief description of the Head Start program goals. Tori then introduced  Head Start’s Regional Director Nancy Nordyke and she in turn introduced Michelle Thompson of the American Red Cross, who presented an overview of the Community Preparedness Program along with some interesting details and insights into her personal experiences as a frontline responder, most recently in helping with results of Hurricane Sandy.   Before introducing the panelists, Michelle talked about humans’ “Fight or Flight” response to crisis, and added the third option, “Freeze”.  “Freeze”, she explained, is an antiquated response from pre-historic times which helped humans defend against their most common crisis – a predator.  Predators don’t like to eat dead things, so the Freeze response evolved to dampen carnivores’ plans of human beings as a meal!

Preparation and practice for dealing in a crisis are very important.  Using the story of Morgan Stanley employees in the World Trade Center (9/11/2001 bombing) who had the good fortune of a security guard who made staff participate in quarterly evacuation drills, the vast majority of people in their office made it down the stairs to safety.  Knowing the terrain proved to be essential; people unfamiliar with the staircases and escape routes were trapped.  And even with consistent practice, it still took 1 minute for each of the 22 floors down for Morgan Stanley employees to get to safety.

Michelle, with the help of a student volunteer, shared the contents of the Preparedness Kit, which the Red Cross recommends for every household to assemble.  A long list offered on page 5 of the Red Cross Pamphlet includes water(1 gallon per person per day), first aid kit, food that is ready to eat and non-perishable, a battery-operated radio, flashlight and many other things. (A half dozen lucky audience members won a kit in a raffle at the end the presentation!)

A summary of the ten disaster types, as outlined in the pamphlet, was given: 1) Fires at Home, 2) Winter Weather and Severe Storms, 3) Floods, 4) Earthquakes, 5) Hazardous Materials, 6) Wildfires,  7)Terrorism, 8) Volcanoes, 9) Tsunamis and 10) Pandemic Flu. Of the ten most likely catastrophes or disasters, our region’s Number One potential is Earthquake.  Hearing Michelle’s chilling report about the Cascadia Abduction Zone, where an overdue West Coast earthquake which may be felt all the way to Salt Lake City, the audience and myself really engaged in learning what we can do as well as what Emergency Responders services and programs are in place.

Michelle introduced a panel of experts, one each from Community Health, the National Guard, Phoenix Police Department and Talent Fire House 5, then each panelist spoke to particular areas of concern and answered many questions from the audience.

The second most likely event which may “plague” our region is Pandemic.  Public Health representative Tonya Phillips explained the differences between epidemics and pandemics.  In outbreaks of illness where non-pharmaceutical intervention is not necessary, people who become sick are instructed to stay home, when they sneeze or cough to use the crook of their elbow, rather than hands, to block it, wear a mask when around others and to drink plenty of liquids.  In a pandemic, instructions will be issued from Centers for Disease Control.  If medical intervention becomes necessary, response teams will set up “P.O.D.s” – Points of Dispensing sites.  It is also important to include in Home Preparedness Kits some electrolytes to replace fluids and stabilize body chemistry and diarrhea medications in case the pandemic is a severe flu, and to have bleach and gloves available.

Michelle introduced the representative of National  Guard  Steve Moriarty who explained how the National Guard  is ready to support and assist.  As a “Home Rule” State, Oregon has the first right to contact Salem requesting help from the National Guard.  They may help with firefighting, medical support, and may be dispatched for nights and weekends to back up other disaster response teams.  They are trained in reacting to nuclear, biological and chemical hazards and often assist in flood relief by filling sandbags, reinforcing structures, clearing roads and supplying and delivering food and water to disaster sites.  A large statewide network is available if the local units are not able to handle the problems.

Jeff  Price, an Officer with the City of Phoenix Police Department, described how during a crisis the Police Department would continue to enforce the laws and control traffic.  If necessary they would be responsible to oversee and enforce any evacuations.  Evacuation orders should always be heeded by citizens; these are not trivial warnings and are given only if circumstances warrant.  Evacuation orders would be broadcast on the Emergency Response System through television and radio messages.  In addition the technology now exists that allows individuals to receive the emergency information on their Iphones and Ipod updates.  If all communication systems go down in a disaster, the Police Force will go door to door to inform the citizens of what to do.  If the emergency worsens, a Mandatory Evaucation Order can be given to keep people safe from immediate danger.  Air raid sirens and ham radio operators can also be utilized to create awareness of any situation needing immediate actions.

Fireman Brian Dorris from Talent Firehouse 5 spoke about how to prepare or respond to various types of disasters.  Knowing where to turn off the water and gas to your residence is essential and how to shut off electricity, which can involve a breaker box or other older systems, should be studying ahead before any crisis occurs.  Learn how to do these shut-offs before a disaster happens.  If you smell gas inside your house, get outside and have a neighbor call 911, or use your cell phone after you are far away from the house.  Sparks from landlines or other power sources can ignite gas from the leak.  Go to your gas main and turn the valve for shut off either way a quarter turn.  A water leak inside the house can be stopped by turning off the main water intake, usually found on the sidewalk near a curb of the home.  It is helpful to wrap all outside pipes going to the house to prevent freezing and pipe breakage when temperatures below 32 degrees.  Water mains under the streets can be dealt with by the Water Utility or by calling 911.

Prevention is Key and Brian encouraged residents to call 911 immediately in any emergency.  To help themselves, in addition to the Safety Kits discussed earlier, he encouraged everyone to have fire alarms, fire extinguishers, a plan and maps of emergency escape route, and general knowledge of First Aid.  Taking a class in CPR was also highly advised.  Creating a “defensible space” to deter wild fires is important, especially for rural properties.  The Oregon Department of Forestry has grant money available to help owners clear grass and brush and create defensible fire safety space.  Fuel removal around urban properties is equally important; move supplies of wood and other flammables and foliage away from structures.

For events that are not yet disasters, citizens can sign up for Citizen Alert with cell phone companies and can use the Statewide 211 phone number to get questions answered and find out about essential services before needing them.  A livestock evacuation plan is being developed by Jackson County.

Disaster Preparedness Mock Drills are periodically offered by area CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams).  For citizens who want to learn more and be ready for any disaster, their local CERT can be contacted through their City’s Fire Department.

Following a huge round of applause for our presenters, the raffle was held and many people (including me!) went home with a Safety Kit to get started on their home preparedness plan.




Catie Faryl

February 4, 2013