Are we ready for the next big catastrophe?

Camas-Washougal fire captain preps staff, residents for reality of natural disasters

Camas-Washougal Fire Department Open House and Safety Fair

When: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23

Where: Parker Street Station, 4321 N.W. Parker St., Camas

What: Activities, free and open to the public, will include fire prevention demonstrations, a Lifeflight helicopter landing and demonstrations by the Clark County Sheriff's Office, Vancouver and Washougal Police K-9s. There will also be health and safety exhibits from the American Red Cross, East County Fire and Rescue, Clark Public Utilities, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency and others.

For more information: Visit www.cityofcamas.us.

East County Fire and Rescue Community Emergency Response Team training

What: Training on disaster preparedness and basic disaster response skills. Completion of 20-hour curriculum required for CERT member certification.

When: Friday, Oct. 13, 7 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 14, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20, 7 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 21, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: East County Fire and Rescue Station 91, 600 N.E. 267th Ave., Camas

Cost: $30, includes training supplies and materials

More information: The class size is limited and payment is due at the time of registration. To register, or for additional information, call 360-834-4908 or visit www.ecfr.us.

Camas-Washougal Fire Department Captain Michael Brown, standing next to an emergency water barrel with pumps and filters, has taken on the role of natural disaster coordinator for the CWFD. "I have been working hard to get the department prepared for the Cascadia earthquake and any other large scale natural disasters that may come our way," Brown said.

High winds in April of 2017 caused a large cedar tree to fall across Main Street in Washougal. Following a natural disaster, when local roads may be impassable, residents will need to have provisions to last at least 24 hours. Current recommendations, however, say a 21-day supply is optimal. (Contributed file photo)

Having watched a spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires devastate areas throughout the United States and Mexico in recent weeks, the question of natural disaster prep is likely on many people’s minds.

So how well prepared are Camas and Washougal in the event of a natural disaster? Captain Michael Brown, with the Camas-Washougal Fire Department, wants to make sure when, not if, there is a Cascadia earthquake, there will be food and water available for firefighters and paramedics.

The first step in his research — conducted over the past two years — involved looking at the Portland Fire Bureau’s natural disaster and earthquake plan.

If there are structural collapses, Brown says, it is important to shut off gas lines. He also wants to get fire engines, brush rigs and ambulances out of fire stations, in case there are aftershocks.

“During a power outage, electronics would be useless,” Brown explains.

Information from Portland’s Fire Bureau, as well as opinions from others, are compiled in a red binder on Brown’s desk, and each of the three CWFD stations have a copy of the notebook.

“It would guide you in the first 24 to 48 hours (following an emergency), as much as you can be guided,” he says.

The CWFD stations have food and 55-gallon water barrels with pumps and filters to sustain emergency crews’ operations. The food — similar to meals-ready-to-eat given to military members — is vegetarian-based protein that lasts up to 25 years.

“It (has) a longer shelf life than animal-based protein, which would last 10 to 15 years,” Brown says.

East County Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Mike Carnes adds that ECFR has food and water stored for emergency needs at its three stations.

“Station 93 also stores blankets and cots in case they are needed,” Carnes says.

Portland Fire Bureau stations have seismic gas shutoff valves at each fire station. Brown is advocating for the CWFD to get gas shutoff valves as well as VHF-based radios.

The Portland Fire Bureau has VHF-based radios, so firefighters and paramedics can communicate from station to station in case of a natural disaster. The radios serve as a backup to the main 800 megahertz radio communication.

“They would be separate from the current Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) dispatch communications,” Brown explains.

Brown, who has been a local firefighter-paramedic for 20 years, is not assigned as the CWFD’s natural disaster coordinator, but says he took an interest in Cascadia earthquakes after reading a New Yorker magazine article about the seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest.

The article, by Kathryn Schulz, discusses the Cascadia subduction zone, located north of the San Andreas fault line, which is 700 miles long and includes parts of California, Oregon and Washington.

“It inspired me to get moving and start this process,” Brown says of Schulz’ article. “I want us to function after a large seismic event, with food, water and a plan.”

Brown says that a natural disaster in the Camas-Washougal area could lead to bridge failures, impassable roads and potential landslides on Washougal River Road. “It will be difficult to drive around, potentially,” Brown says.

He envisions scenarios that involve paramedics providing medical triage services in case streets are impassable.

Natural disaster trainings offered

East County Fire and Rescue will offer its Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training in October to educate people about disaster preparedness and equip them with basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

If professional first responders are not immediately available following a diaster, CERT-trained individuals would be able to use the skills they learned in the CERT class to assist others in their neighborhood or workplace. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in the community.

Brown, who hopes the Camas-Washougal Fire Department will soon offer CERT trainings, says he and his wife, a nurse who works in Portland, each have a backpack — a “bugout bag” — in case they encounter a natural disaster or another type of emergency.

Each backpack contains a rain poncho, water-filtration bottle, flashlight, headlamp, first-aid kit and enough food and water to last three days. Brown says the recommendation now is to have enough food and water for 21 days, but adds that this is not practical for everyone.

He recommends that people who live or work in East Clark County be prepared to be self-sufficient for more than 24 hours following a natural disaster, and says residents should know how to shut off gas lines at their homes as well as at their neighbors’ homes, in case their neighbors are at work or absent during the disaster event.

To prepare for winter weather, Brown recommends that people keep blankets, warm clothes and footwear suitable for inclement weather in their car, and adds that it’s always a good idea to keep the gas tank as full as possible.

Brown also recommends storing food and water and shutting off the gas at home in the event of flooding — something he and his family are wary of, living along the Washougal River.

“Be aware of gas leaks and another hazard — downed power lines,” he says. “Have a surplus of urgent medication, particularly blood pressure or heart medicine … All the things that are normal in your life will not be normal (during a natural disaster.)”

Referring to the after-effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, Brown points out that these recent natural disasters have shed light on the benefits of being prepared.

“Right now in the United States, it’s clear how bad it can get,” Brown says. “There is no food, water or electricity. All the things you come to rely on daily are no longer available.”

The American Red Cross will provide steps to prepare for a disaster from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Sept. 23, during a Camas-Washougal Fire Department open house and safety fair (see sidebar).

An emergency supply checklist can be found at www.ready.gov.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is one of the supporters of the “Great Washington ShakeOut,” scheduled for 10:19 a.m., on Thursday, Oct. 19. Participants in the earthquake drill will practice how to drop, cover and hold on.

Visit shakeout.org/washington for more information about how to survive and recover quickly from a natural disaster in this part of the country.

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