Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, goes through the items in a disaster preparedness backpack March 29 in his office in Salem. The agency is co-sponsoring a conference this week outside Bend, Oregon for nearly 500 emergency management planners and first responders from all level of local, state, tribal and federal government. This is the third year of the annual event, which is convened to provide consistent training among agencies, review lessons learned from recent disasters and create relationships between emergency responders that can be critical during an actual crisis. [AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus]

Emergency responders gather for weeklong event

PORTLAND — Nearly 500 emergency managers and first responders from around Oregon, as well as tribal, state and federal agencies, gathered Tuesday outside Bend, Oregon, for training and to review lessons learned from recent disasters, including an oil train derailment last summer in the Columbia River Gorge.

The three-day event co-sponsored by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the Oregon Health Authority is intended to build relationships between first responders in a relaxed setting to create a more coordinated response in a real crisis.

"We don't do much as emergency managers in a vacuum, and it's predicated on relationships," said Andrew Phelps, director of the Office of Emergency Management. "It's important that you can call them at 3 o'clock in the morning and they know who you are."

Attendees this year will hear presentations on lessons learned from the oil train derailment last June in Mosier that sparked a large fire and will review the Cascadia Rising earthquake simulation last summer that involved agencies from all levels of government and military across Washington and Oregon.

It's the third year of the conference, and this year attendees will get a more robust training schedule that includes courses on public health from state health authorities. One of the goals is to review laws that give public health agencies police powers in a disaster to help control outbreaks, such as enforcing quarantine orders and isolating patients, said DeWayne Hatcher, the interim operations chief for the Oregon Health Authority's public health branch.

The event will also include training on pediatric trauma, because one quarter of all patients in a disaster event are children, he said. "We have historically always focused on the adults, and so now we have a big push to develop a really robust pediatric trauma plan that reaches all of our partners," Hatcher said.

Another area covered will be how to harness social media for getting out updates and evacuation information during a disaster and how to get ahead of rumors that can spread online and hamper an emergency response. Building better relationships with traditional media partners is also important, emergency managers said.

"Really the concept that just about any citizen can post on social media, it poses some challenges. The expectation for real-time information out in the community has evolved so much (that) sometimes the community wants it even before we get it," said Nathan Garibay, Deschutes County emergency services manager.

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