Area governments aren’t required to prepare for giant earthquakes and wildfires and they can’t legally force anyone else to get ready, but we should be keenly aware that the Cascadia Subduction quake is going to be a whopper, lasting five minutes (compared to only 30 seconds for the 1989 Loma Prieta disaster in the Bay Area) — and you’ll need two weeks worth of food on hand, not the 72-hours worth we’ve always been told to stockpile.
That was the word Sunday from Ashland Fire & Rescue’s Terry Eubanks, who told 60 residents that it’s only human nature to take action after a disaster strikes, but the recent harsh lessons of destroyed cities in our region have changed everything.
A vast number of potential scenarios have to be thought out, such as where are the shelters, how do we charge cellphones (our main line of communication), how do people with little space store survival kits — and what if posted wildfire evacuation routes suddenly need to be changed? How do we tell people?
For starters, she said, everyone should get on the Nixle app, 888-777, which will instantly advise you about everything from missing persons to fire. In wildfire emergencies, this app can change evacuation routes, make way for emergency vehicles and save lives, she said.
Planning now can be tedious, but job one will be finding loved ones, whether they’re in town or in the next state. After securing their human family, people seek to save pets and are ready to go to the lengths they would go for a human family.
“Pets are part of the family, but you need to know that a lot of shelters don’t allow animals, including the Red Cross,” she said. “So you need to already have figured out who can take your dog and what hotels allow them a warm, dry place to sleep.”
When the temblor rumbles, expect water, electric and gas (both types) to get disconnected from their networks. Above all, you need water. It weighs 8 pounds per gallon and can’t be easily schlepped around. Few know that you can drink the water from your toilet tank, the part above the bowl.
Many in Ashland were here for the ’97 New Year’s Day flood, which took out the water main for two weeks, so the main lesson, said Eubanks, was that things take time and require lots of spare parts, so you have to prepare.
New on the survival scene is “the cloud.” In the old days, you needed to save paper documents — insurance, wills, birth certificates, passports, social security cards, deeds, bank account numbers, inventories, phone numbers — and in recent years, you could save them on flash drives. But even those can come to harm, so get thee onto the internet cloud, where, theoretically at least, they achieve digital immortality.
Local residents may expect fast response to a 911 call, but in a seismic fiasco, hundreds of calls would cripple emergency communications in the first minute and, she said, “It’s going to be impossible for the fire department to come to every call. We’ll be inundated. We don’t have the manpower. We have only three fire engines. We’ll be asking if the building (the fire department) is still standing, how the road looks and if phone service is intact.”
A big help at that moment will be the completed surveys of “Map Your Neighborhood,” where people have gone door-to-door, getting on a nodding acquaintance with neighbors and finding out who has ladders, chain saws, fire extinguishers, radio communication and knows how to use them.
Links to this information and classes are at ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=541. Especially helpful on the personal level are instructions for creating an emergency survival kit, which details needed clothing, bedding, first aid, food, water, medications, sanitary items, tools and other things you might not think of for an emergency kit, such as books, playing cards, diapers, formula, eye glasses, candles and lighters.
You might not consider the raft of first-aid items you should have by the garage door until you need them: sterile adhesive, gauze pads, tape, scissors, space blanket, splint, ace bandage, razor blades, safety pins, eye dropper.
Food should include high-energy nuts, nut butters, trail mix, “stress foods” like chocolate, candy and gum, powdered or canned milk, smoked or jerked meat, vitamins — and don’t forget a hand-operated can opener.
Water? It’s heavy but you need one gallon a day per person, plus water for pets and hygiene. Talk about planning! To iron out the bugs, Eubanks suggested devoting a family weekend to surviving on your plans and supplies.
During a “megafire,” the term for town-gobbling blazes, responders will keep in mind that embers can rapidly travel a mile and a half, changing evacuation plans and forcing firefighters to deal with unique pet situations where people don’t want to leave their houses, she said.
Police already encountered the huge obstacles presented by pets during the 2010 Oak Knoll fire that consumed 11 homes, she related. Police located a FireWise home and said, “it’s not going past this point,” but the owner refused to leave without his cat. The cop can’t force a homeowner out, and a bodycam video showed him searching for the animal, finally grabbing it out from under a bed as flames roared closer.
The lesson, she added, is, “It wouldn’t be worth it for you to perish to save your cat or anything you own” — so these decisions and procedures must be ironed out as part of preparedness.
The class by Eubanks at Bellview Grange focused on a big quake, in which you can “shelter in place” at home, possibly having some access to water, power and a roof over your head — while in wildfire, you usually need to flee. Studies show that wood-frame houses often survive quakes quite well, she noted.
Megafires are “terribly scary” and scramble our wits, as well as our communications networks, so it’s best, she said, to “start talking” with neighbors and emergency personnel now.
Eubanks urged everyone to watch a 21-minute video, produced by Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries that explains the geologically dramatic but quake-prone area we live in. It starts with the warning that Oregon, snuggled up against the Cascadia Subduction Zone, has potential “to experience earthquakes larger than California will ever experience.” It’s at bit.ly/2RAt6c1.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.