Be prepared for when the next disaster hits, and know that local agencies are prepared, too – more so if residents are able to help themselves.

Agencies and citizens can help each other when major disasters strike

Be prepared for when the next disaster hits, and know that local agencies are prepared, too – more so if residents are able to help themselves.

Local officials have plans and participate in conferences, as well as disaster drills. They also offer classes to help anyone be better prepared for the next flood, earthquake or whatever nature may throw at us.

Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety, according to spokeswoman Janine Johnson, offers a pair of courses: Community Emergency Response Team and Map Your Neighborhood.

“Both of these classes teach what to do before, during and after a disaster in our area,” Johnson said. “We also have an emergency operations center in Maple Valley. When, not if, the ‘big one’ happens, our citizens have been told to expect to be on their own for five or seven days.”

Johnson explained that one of the most important items everyone should have in their disaster kit is a radio in order to keep up with current events.

“When your power is out, not knowing what is going on the in the area is really frustrating,” she said. “Citizens could miss pertinent information such as evacuations (or) evacuation routes. Most likely, we won’t know the exact routes to take until after the disaster hits and we know firsthand what areas we need to avoid or leave.”

Capt. Kyle Ohashi, spokesman for Fire District 37, which serves residents in and around Covington, said the department has done a number of things to ready itself for a disaster “so that we can continue to provide emergency services to the public.”

“All of our fire stations are outfitted with a diesel generator which can run power to the station in the event of a power outage,” Ohashi said. “This will allow our dispatch radios to continue working, as well as provide power to the emergency apparatus.”

All of the department’s stations have emergency supplies similar to what homeowners are encouraged to keep on hand.

Firefighters are also trained to report into headquarters via radio or cell phone with their status following a disaster with information about health of personnel, ability to respond and the condition of the station, in addition to any other important details.

“Our firefighters are trained to do what is called a windshield survey,” Ohashi said. “Once a disaster has taken place and the firefighters have performed their accountability check, they are to drive all the major response routes in their area to determine the state of the infrastructure. This includes looking for which roads are no longer drivable, where overpasses or bridges may be down, and where large buildings may be heavily damaged.”

Cities also are required by federal law to have a comprehensive emergency management plan. Covington’s is due for an update in 2009, said Public Works director Glenn Akramoff.

“We have to send a report to Homeland Security every year spelling out that we’re complying,” he said. “As part of the plan, there’s an assessment of all the possible incidents we would have, and that’s quite a few here.”

The plan then tackles how to handle and respond to an event including initial response to evacuating people and getting supplies.

Important lessons have been learned from major disasters in other parts of the U.S.

“One of the things you may have noticed in (Hurricane) Katrina – they were so vastly effected, their response people left, and we don’t want that to happen” here, Akramoff said. “There were a lot of lessons learned from Katrina in areas nobody had thought of before. It was such a big disaster, it really shows that individuals need to be prepared.”

In addition to the comprehensive plan, Akramoff said, his staff is developing an operations manual that can be handed to any volunteer who walks in off the street to help. This will be particularly valuable if city officials who are trained in emergency response aren’t able to get to Covington’s emergency coordination center (ECC) after a disaster, he noted.

“That’s the definition, ultimately, of a disaster – when it overloads all of the systems,” Akramoff said. “You can only be so prepared. Then you move ahead toward getting everything back to normal and functioning.”

Covington has an Emergency Management Committee made up of city personnel that meets once a month. Akramoff heads up the committee.

The city’s emergency management plan is available at www.ci.covington.wa.us, as well as links to various disaster guideliness.

Akramoff said the city sent representatives to Partners in Preparedness, an emergency preparedness conference, April 1-2 in Tacoma to expand knowledge of disaster preparation.

The conference featured “some great speakers and classes on how to put plans together and how to run drills,” he said. He added that one speaker “was involved with the response to the Virginia Tech shootings. It’s great networking and it’s particularly beneficial for those of us from small cities.”

In March, Covington city officials participated in a drill coordinated by King County, called Sound Shake 08, and they opened up the city’s ECC.

“We expanded it as far as we could for a few hours,” Akramoff said. “We learned a few things, and we have things we need to work on.”

Philip Morley, assistant city manager in Maple Valley, said the city has a joint agreement with Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety, Tahoma School District, King County Sheriff Department’s Precinct 3, Covington Water District and Fire District 47 to jointly operate a greater Maple Valley emergency coordination center.

“Other organizations from the community are actively involved to coordinate and plan our collective response, like Puget Sound Energy, Amateur Radio Emergency Services, Maple Valley Community Center, the chamber of commerce and the Soup Ladies (a volunteer group that serves food to disaster-relief workers),” Morley said. “Government and organization representatives meet monthly to plan, refine ECC operating guidelines, and train for an emergency. In addition to preparing government and community organizations to respond, the ECC has learned from recent disasters like Katrina and last year’s Chehalis River flood how important it is for each person to take steps to be prepared as an individual.”

Morely said an Emergency Preparedness Fair is planned for Oct. 11 at Rock Creek Elementary School “to provide area residents and businesses information on how they can prepare, and bring in vendors so it is easy to buy the emergency supplies to make your home or business a safer place when disaster strikes.”

Akramoff also encourages people to take the CERT class which is offered in spring and fall by the Kent Fire Department as well as Maple Valley Fire.

Participants in CERT learn about hazards that may impact their area. The course also trains them in basic disaster response skills in order to assist others in their neighborhood or workplace after an event. This can be particularly helpful when emergency responders aren’t immediately available, officials said.

Johnson, the Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety spokeswoman, said the 2006 windstorm that knocked out power for as much as a week to Puget Sound Energy customers in some parts of western Washington showed some things that need to be worked on.

“We learned as a fire department that many people in our area are still not prepared,” Johnson said. “We turned a non-disaster event into a disaster. People didn’t fuel up their cars the day before. They also didn’t stock up on groceries and were calling 9-1-1 to ask when their power would be turned back on. This caused long lines at the gas station and even fights, shelves in the grocery store to become empty, and delayed real emergency calls to be dispatched in a timely manner.”

Akramoff said everyone has a personal responsibility to be ready for any disaster.

“Healthy people need to be able to take care of themselves for a certain period of time,” he said. “You shouldn’t be worrying about where you’re going to get your next drink of water.”

Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and khill@reporternewspapers.com

Get CERTified

Local community emergency response training (CERT) is offered through:

• Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety. Has 102 CERT members. If you want to become one, to o, send an e-mail to Janine Johnson at janinej@maplevalleyfire.org.

• Fire District 37/Kent Fire Department: Information is available at (253) 856-4440 and kentecc@ci.kent.wa.us

• Mountain View Fire and Rescue/Black Diamond Fire Department: Training starts July 9. Information is available at (253) 735-0284.