Preparing For Disaster—Emergency Preparation and Management

My parents were adults during the Great Depression. To them, “Be Prepared,” was more than a scout motto, it was a way of life. As a result of those lasting lessons on prudent living, and having a home 20 miles from the city, Cathy and I taught our children to grow vegetables in a raised-bed garden, dehydrate and can fruits and vegetables, grind wheat, and bake bread. I always reminded the kids, “When a crisis arises, the time for preparation has past.”

Now my children are grown, and they have children of their own. Yet the principles of self-reliance are timeless and should be remembered and practiced by families, communities, and our state.

Starting with the emergency preparation at the state level, we should remember the threat of a catastrophic (Richter Scale 9.0) earthquake off Oregon’s coast is real. Referred to as the Cascadia Event, federal and state agencies have been talking about it for years. Oregon has an Office of Emergency Management (OEM) that is located in the Oregon Military Department. OEM is to lead statewide efforts to develop and enhance preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Thus, OEM’s mission is to protect the lives, property, and environment of the whole community – state and local. Regardless of the cause, OEM is charged with coordinating Oregon’s emergency management efforts.

To determine the condition of Oregon’s preparedness for natural or man-made disasters, a Secretary of State audit was released today. Its findings are clear from the audit report’s title, “The State Must Do More to Prepare Oregon for a Catastrophic Disaster.”

Unfortunately, our auditors found that Oregon—its government and its communities—are ill-prepared to respond to a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami or even to respond to recurring disasters such as wildfires and flooding. The audit found that state and local governments are not meeting key standards for being prepared to respond to such events.

Specifically, the audit found a number of deficiencies that weaken our state’s preparedness for dealing with a catastrophic event, including the following:

  • Oregon does not meet key emergency management program standards. These national baseline standards are a tool to strengthen preparedness and response, demonstrate accountability, and identify resource needs.
  • Planning efforts across all levels of Oregon’s emergency management system are lacking. Critical continuity plans that ensure functional government services in the wake of a disaster are either missing or incomplete. Additionally, insufficient staff resources put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal grant funding for future disasters.
  • Current statewide staffing is inadequate to reduce Oregon’s vulnerability to disasters. OEM in particular is understaffed, despite repeated budget requests to the legislature. This inhibits the agency’s capacity to coordinate emergency management efforts in the state.
  • More accountability is needed to ensure progress on preparedness goals and projects, and to enhance public awareness.

The audit’s recommendations are useful, but may take months or even years to implement. Even if fully implemented, the reality is that in a disaster on the scale of a Cascadia Event, bridges will collapse, roads will be impassable, power and communications towers will topple, and government resources may not be available for days, weeks, or even longer.

To be prepared for such an event, communities, families, and individuals should take action now. 

Communities of all sizes are made up of individuals and families, so here are suggestions on what individuals and families can do now to be prepared for a major disaster.

1. Prepare for sudden evacuation with an Emergency 72-Hour Kit: You and those you care about should have a backpack, athletic bag, or even a plastic trash bag containing an “Emergency 72-Hour Kit.” To assist in knowing what to put in your Emergency 72-Hour Kit, check out the recommendations from the American Red Cross.

2. Prepare your home with a Two-Week Supply: There may come a time when access to groceries or transportation might not be available. For that situation, a two-week supply of food, water and other necessities is highly recommended. FEMA has valuable information on preparing your home for a two-week period of self-sufficiency. In addition, OEM has its own “2-Week Ready” web resources.

3. Become a trained volunteer for your community:

a. CERT. When a major disaster occurs, your community will need those who are trained in how to respond. To be ready to help, consider joining your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  As explained on the Ready.gov website, “The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, which allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced.”

b. CITIZEN CORPS. In addition to CERT, the Citizen Corps is an additional opportunity to be a valuable and well-trained volunteer for your community. As stated on their website, “The mission of Citizen Corps is to harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds. Citizen Corps asks you to embrace the personal responsibility to be prepared; to get training in first aid and emergency skills; and to volunteer to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.

c. RED CROSS. The Red Cross is available even where CERT and CITIZENS CORPS are not. The Red Cross offers online and classroom training for volunteers who want to be ready to assist when a major disaster occurs.

In conclusion, today’s audit makes recommendations for the Oregon Emergency Management office and the governor to improve Oregon’s government preparations for major disasters. It will take time and money to implement the audit’s recommendations.

Each of us would be wise to take immediate action to improve our individual, family, and community’s ability to respond to major natural or man-made disasters. We each can do something to prepare for the future, and now is the time to start.

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 5.03.55 PM.png