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Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst

September events planned statewide for National Preparedness Month

Photo Credit: BILL MINTIENS - Crook County's Emergency Manager Michael Ryan is one of several local leaders charged with making sure the community is prepared for a variety of potential disasters.

September is National Preparedness Month and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM), are staging events across the state to educate and alert individuals and families about the need to be prepared for any disaster — whether natural or man-made.

One of the events is called “Race the Wave” and will take runners and walkers along a tsunami evacuation route in Cannon Beach on Sept. 28. An emergency preparedness fair will take place at the same time at the city’s emergency supplies station established above the tsunami inundation zone.

While people may think of the Oregon Coast regarding earthquakes and tsunamis, Central Oregon is not immune from the effects of such an event.

Oregon is located near the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 600-mile earthquake fault stretching from offshore northern California to southern British Columbia. Experts predict a large earthquake and tsunami similar to the one that struck Japan in 2011 could strike Oregon in the near future.

“The Cascadia Subduction Zone has let rip with more than 40 great earthquakes. It’s geologically active and Oregon could experience a huge earthquake and tsunami anytime,” said State Geologist Vicki McConnell.

Michael Ryan, the emergency manager with the Crook County Sheriff’s Office, has more than 20 years of fire service experience, and he’s well aware of the disasters that might hit Crook County.

“If a 9.0 earthquake happens on the coast it would not go unfelt here. It could cause issues with our dams, buildings, water mains, and sewers,” said Ryan.

Flooding is by far Ryan’s main concern for Crook County, followed by wildfires and terrorism-induced power outages.

“Flooding is certainly a concern of mine. Although the Ochoco Reservoir dam has been reworked in the last five years, earthen dams don’t have a great track record, we’ve had a lot of earthen dam failures,” explained Ryan.

It’s probably safe to say that most residents don’t worry about terrorism-induced disasters here in Crook County. But Ryan does.

“I probably worry about that more than most people do; it’s the nature of the job. I don’t worry about terrorism-induced flooding due to blowing up a dam; I worry more about secondary causes of terrorism in the country. Our electrical grid is fairly vulnerable to cyber terrorism,” said Ryan.

Losing power for an extended period of time, not just a few days, is a major concern for Ryan.

“The federal government has made no secret that we’ve got some holes there. There’s a whole host of potential problems associated with it - refrigeration, transportation, food delivery, fuel availability, pumping water. Katrina (hurricane) is a great example of what can happen,” said Ryan.

“If the power grid went down it’s a much larger problem than Michael Ryan can resolve,” he added.

Emergency managers across the state play a critical role in public safety during emergencies. Ryan has the both the experience and resources to coordinate any type of disaster that might befall Crook County.

“I have a coordinating position; I’m responsible for all the ‘out of the ordinary emergencies’ like heavy snowfall, flooding, wildland fires, earthquakes, any kind of natural disasters that might come our way. And I can escalate our needs right up through OEM,” said Ryan.

Ryan has a full plate when it comes to coordinating responsibilities. The 60 volunteers that comprise Crook County Search and Rescue fall under him. Additionally Ryan has a whole host of administrative duties - from ordering uniforms to fleet management.

The people he relies on most, however, comprise the county’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Ryan chairs. Regular members include the St. Charles Health System, the Crook County Health Department, the City of Prineville, a Crook County commissioner, the Ochoco Water District, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Oregon Department of Forestry, and other agencies as requested.

Their collective expertise covers most emergencies that are likely to happen.

One committee member, Karen Yeargain, has been the county’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator as well as the communicable disease coordinator since 2006.

Yeargain feels that the various public agencies are well-equipped and ready for most emergencies - but that doesn’t remove the need for personal safety.

“We do tend to think that, when something happens, the right people will know what to do. However, the public needs to think about what do I personally need to do to keep my family safe, until the public response agencies are able to help?” said Yeargain.

Educating the public about the possibility of a disaster is one thing. Getting the public to actually prepare is another.

“Our efforts have been mainly educational in terms of putting information out,” Yeargain said. “We’ve done a good job of that, but we haven’t had a strong presence of saying ‘Hey everybody listen up, look at this, really think about this.’ Have we taken all the steps to motivate residents to take action? That is still in its infancy.”

Yeargain is concerned that too many people believe that, when disaster strikes, a public service agency will be immediately at their doorstep to help. Recent disasters around the country have proven that assumption to be incorrect.

“Here’s how it really works in an emergency. Agencies first look to responder safety, then community safety, and then, as staffing is freed-up, who within the community is most in danger and how can we help them?” explained Yeargain.

“A person really needs to be able to rely on themselves, their family, or their neighborhood for one to three or more days because the response agencies may not be able to get to that individual person right away. So who’s in charge of my personal safety? That’s me!” added Yeargain.

The Crook County Sheriff’s Office website offers information on preparedness, ranging from how to survive various emergencies to disaster alerts and how to assemble a home survival kit.

Instruction-wise Cynthia Graves, co-owner of Prineville’s PrepperUp store and a public member of the Emergency Preparedness Committee, is starting a series of “preparedness classes” beginning Monday, Sept. 29. The free classes will be held every Monday for about 12 weeks

“We’ll be teaching the basics of preparation. What do the Red Cross and FEMA say about preparedness? What are the four disasters that could happen here? A Cascadia-type event, a flood, a pandemic, and a wildfire. What do you need to do, have in your house, to be prepared?” said Graves.

Common preparedness literature suggests that individuals and families should be prepared to be self-sustaining for 72 hours after an emergency. Given recent national disasters, however, Michael Ryan feels differently about that recommendation.

“One of the major federal agencies in now recommending that we be ready to be self-sustaining for three weeks, not just 72 hours. I personally think 30 days is a great idea; it’s not financially out-of-reach for most people and a lot of the things (listed on the Sheriff’s website) are either already in someone’s home - or easily obtainable,” said Ryan.

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