Monday, May 3, 2010

Don’t Wait for the Big One: Prepare Now

May is the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. For many, it’s notable as one of those events that you can remember just where you were when it occurred, whether or not you were affected. What lessons did we learn from this catastrophic event that took 57 lives, reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland and caused over a billion dollars in damage? What could we do differently knowing what we know today to prepare for disaster?

Although most of us don’t live in the shadow of a mountain ready to erupt, we can still learn from this disaster. The obvious, of course, is to heed warnings about tempting fate. Scientists and local authorities repeatedly warned people to stay clear of the mountain, but still many people lost their lives as the result of the eruption. Some were scientists, some were people who had business there, primarily loggers and media people, but many were people curious about the activity, people who didn’t want to miss out, who lost their lives to satisfy their curiosity.

What lessons can we take from all of this? That major disasters happen. In our area, one of the most likely is earthquake. Haiti is a tragic example of total unreadiness. Their inability to cope was unfortunate, but understandable. Haiti had little infrastructure and was already an extremely poor country. Unbelievable suffering occurred before the world could get organized to help. Most Haitians were simply unable to help themselves. Hopefully, we’re better prepared.

A more realistic example for comparison to our situation is Chile when, in February 2010 they experienced a magnitude 8.8 earthquake. Chile is considered to be more the equivalent to the United States in terms of geological similarities, infrastructure and preparedness. Between the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis, at least 500,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, with an estimated death toll close to 500.

One of the newscasts we saw on the sixth day after the Chilean earthquake showed a large extended family living in a home not damaged by the earthquake, but who did not have enough food and water. Roads leading to their home were severely damaged and they couldn’t get to a store. In any event, many stores were closed. The lesson? Keep enough food and water on hand to last six or more days.

Because of lack of electricity, communication was seriously impacted. Chilean citizens grieved about relatives and friends in the hardest-hit areas. This always takes time, but often lines of emergency communication can be restored. Another lesson: Be prepared to listen for ways to communicate with loved ones. The American Red Cross offers their “Safe and Well” system as soon as communications can be set up.

In coastal areas, tsunamis were expected as a result of the Chilean earthquake. Lesson: Have in mind a place to retreat to higher ground. Discuss with your family where you would meet in the likely event you’re not together when you need to move quickly.

Chaos will always be a part of a disaster. Lesson: You can reduce your personal feelings of helplessness by being prepared.

Prepare a personal “Go-Kit” for every member of your family for your home, work and car. Inquire with your children’s school district to learn what emergency preparations they have made. Many school districts have made preparedness a priority.

The top eleven items that should be in your go-kits:

Flashlight with spare batteries (or hand-crank)
Duct Tape
Large Garbage Bags
Radio with spare batteries (or hand-crank)
First Aid Kit
Identification Papers
Personal Items (medication, eyeglasses, hearing aid)

Keep in mind that without electricity, ATM's will not be available; your credit cards and checks won't work either. During an emergency, banks and stores might be closed. If stores are open and electricity is off, much of their equipment will be inoperable. Have on hand a supply of cash in small denominations so that you can purchase necessary goods.

Many kinds of disaster can strike: earthquake, flood, terrorism, tsunami, even an erupting volcano. Assembling emergency supplies will give you confidence and peace of mind should disaster strike. If you need to evacuate your home, or be confined to home, you will have the basic supplies you need. Act now to protect your family.


MinaW said...

There was an earthquake nearby during the year we lived in Japan (while I was in high school). Where we were it was just a bit of shaking, nearer the center, even a week later, the train tracks, although passable, were wavy.

The young Japanese woman (who came in to teach us cooking and practice our languages) told us that the night after the quake, she & her family had slept in their clothes, with packed backpacks by the door, in case of aftershocks. She seemed shocked that we hadn't.

Even though both my parents had grown up in California (and Dad was born 9 yrs, Mom 14 yrs after the great San Francisco quake) that had not even occurred to us.

Mary E. Trimble said...

Mina -- thanks for your sharing your Japanese experiences. Sometimes I think the more familiar with things we are, the more careless we become. You'd think it would be the opposite!