Emergency Management Program Manager Mike Curry plans for major catastrophes for Jackson County. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

In Case Of Emergency

Growing up in the relative calm, dry environment of Flagstaff, Ariz., Mike Curry spent little time dwelling on disasters like floods and earthquakes. As a child, his only experience with a major emergency was the day his childhood home burned to the ground.

Nowadays, in a land where wildfires and floods are a reality, Curry, 58, is the man with the plan.

Jackson County's emergency management program manager is tasked with knowing how to respond to any and every type of large-scale crisis that could happen in the Rogue Valley. He devotes his time to troubleshooting the "what ifs" and preparing for worst-case scenarios.

"It's basically my job to have a plan in place for every possible horrible thing that could happen," Curry says. "We try to learn from other events that happen elsewhere to make sure we're prepared in Jackson County."

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, emergency management officials around the country realized some of the pitfalls of responding to large-scale events, such as massive amounts of unexpected debris.

"They basically had all these homes destroyed during Katrina and they didn't have a good plan to handle debris generated from the massive flooding," Curry says.

"So one thing that Homeland Security has passed through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) as a result is that all counties need a debris management plan."

Companion animals were another unexpected problem, Curry says.

"One thing we've learned was that people wouldn't evacuate to shelters because they had companion animals," he says. A law passed last year requires counties to plan for companion animals.

In Jackson County, which already had an evacuation plan for farm animals, both livestock and companion animals will be warehoused at the county fairgrounds during a large-scale emergency.

Emergency response managers also have been focusing on preparing residents in case resources are stretched thin during a crisis. All households should be able to survive at least 72 hours.

"For this area, the biggest potential event would be a subduction zone quake," Curry says. "Obviously we wouldn't want everyone to come to City Hall because electricity and water would be off. In that case, we would tell people to shelter in place, camp in backyards, whatever they had to do."

He added, "We'd deliver water and porta-potties to neighborhoods, but the idea is that we want residents prepared for the fact it could take up to 72 hours to provide resources. "¦ It took FEMA five days to get water to the Superdome."

In addition to meeting federal regulations, grant writing, staging mock emergencies and coordinating information between agencies, Curry is also responsible for the county's emergency broadcast system and a phone system that, if needed, could be programmed to call specific residents in any given area.

"It would take eight days to call everybody in the county, but the system would be effective for a specific geographic region, like a fire going through Sardine Creek. We could call everyone and provide evacuation information," he explains.

While Curry's job has a wide focus today, the role was born out of a need for an emergency reporting system during the 1950s when threat of nuclear attack was a reality for Americans during the Cold War.

"Historically, this position is the old civil defense position of the 1950s where a guy came out with civil defense helmet on and blew his whistle," Curry notes.

Curry came to the Rogue Valley four years ago after retiring from a 25-year career as a firefighter in Flagstaff, including three seasons on a hot-shot crew battling wildfires — which he recalls fondly as a "dirty and thankless job."

Before firefighting, he took two tours in Vietnam and earned college degrees in business management and fire science.

A lush green environment with lots of water attracted Curry and his family to Oregon, he says.

"We loved Oregon "¦ and I really wanted to still use my training and what I knew. We couldn't have found a better place to be," he says.

"I still get a smile on my face, driving down I-5 seeing all the rivers and the water. "¦ And I love what I'm doing."

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