Two in 10 county residents fully prepared for disaster
The good news for Washington County: Nine in 10 residents are somewhat prepared for an emergency.
The bad news: Only about two in 10 residents are fully prepared with communication and evacuation plans, a three-day supply of food and water, and a battery-powered radio, flashlight and first-aid kit. (That share is still better than the statewide average.)
These conclusions were drawn from a survey conducted by Washington County Public Health last summer with help from more than 60 volunteers.
Results were released in the aftermath of January's snowstorm, which occurred six months after the survey, when temperatures had neared 100 degrees.
"This project gave us an opportunity to practice and be more prepared in the event of a real emergency," said Marni Kuyl, director of county health and human services.
"There is so much people can do now that we know how we can target what people really need."
The exercise was named CASPHER, which stands for Community Assessment of Public Health Emergency Response.
"If there is an actual emergency, one of the roles of Public Health will be to conduct this exercise to determine the needs of the community in a disaster," said Kim Repp, public health data and research analyst.
It tested what steps people are taking if there is a disaster such as a severe earthquake — one of magnitude 9.0 or stronger triggered off the Oregon coast — although more likely occurrences are floods, wildfires or winter storms.
"This information helped us understand how well the message is getting through and how people are taking action once they hear about it," said Tricia Mortell, Public Health Division manager.
The Oregon Health Authority conducted a more limited survey on public preparedness in 2013.
According to the county survey, 79 percent have set aside a three-day supply of food for their pets, slightly more than the 75 percent of those who have set aside food for themselves.
Repp said most of those surveyed say they will take their pets with them if they are required to evacuate.
"The first step is to make a plan," Mortell said. Slightly more than half (57 percent) in the survey have a home evacuation plan.
Mortell said people in a household also should prepare how to get in touch with each other if they get separated — and that cell phones may not work in an emergency if cell towers are damaged or overloaded with calls.
More have flashlights and radio sets, powered by batteries or wound by hand, than have a three-day supply of water available.
For radios, the figure was 62 percent; for water, 42 percent.
"If you do not have water, it does not matter if you have the flashlight," Mortell said.
Figure one gallon per person per day, she said, and it can be simple tap water in clean bottles — but not used previously for milk.
One surprise that emerged from the survey results was that a third of participants sought more information about how to prepare for an emergency.
Two suggestions offered by Mortell are the website take5tosurvive.com, sponsored by Washington County and others, and the discussion guide and tool kit "Preparing Together," available at any Washington County Cooperative Library Services branch.
Washington County is part of the Emergency Management Cooperative, which includes several cities, Clean Water Services, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.
Some other findings:
- One in three Hispanic households lacks a carbon monoxide detector, compared with one in 10 non-Hispanic households. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill people.
- Forty percent of Asian households have a wind-up or battery-powered radio; 66 percent of white households do.
- One in eight households would have difficulty evacuating in an emergency because someone has a physical disability or requires medical equipment.
"There's a huge need for our community to help prepare for people who have physical mobility issues or medical equipment at home," Repp said.
Although the Washington County Emergency Medical Services system has plans that give priority to people most in need, Mortell said neighbors and community groups — not first responders — are likely to be first on the scene and should be prepared to help immediately.
"The key is sharing this information with all of our community partners," she said.
By Peter Wong
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