No matter how many articles you might read about the impending Cascadia “mother of all earthquakes” set to unleash chaos on the Pacific Northwest at some point between tonight and 100 years from now, the thought of planning for such a large-scale disaster isn’t something that comes naturally to people.
“It’s almost unimaginable,” said Dennis Rugg, executive director of the American Red Cross’ Southwest Washington chapter. “When we talk to people about being prepared, we don’t expect them to go home and be ready for a disaster in 24 hours. That’s unrealistic. People won’t do that. But, what they can do is, go home and look at their own special needs and start to think about how they can come through (a disaster) maybe not unscathed, but resilient.”
Rugg and other disaster preparedness experts like to give small, “doable” assignments to people they talk to about planning for events like house fires, wildfires, winter storms, flooding and, yes, earthquakes.
“Maybe you buy extra soup this week and add it to your kit. Then, next week, you buy bandages and so on,” Rugg said. “Before you know it, every time you go to the store, you’re picking up something for your kit. You don’t have to spend $400, you can do it for $5 or $10 a week. The point is to just get in the mindset of thinking about these things and preparing yourself and your family for these situations.”
Rugg will speak to area freemasons, as well as interested members of the public, about preparing for — and preventing — disasters at the North Bank No. 182 Masonic Lodge in Washougal, starting at 7:15 p.m., Monday, Feb. 19.
Worshipful Master Art Liss, head of the North Bank Masonic Lodge, has been trying to help his brother masons connect to the greater Camas-Washougal community. Opening the disaster preparedness conversation up to the general public is a step in that direction, Liss said. Another step might be something that takes more planning — Liss is investigating the possibility of converting the Washougal Masonic building into a safe community shelter in the face of a natural or manmade disaster.
“We have a full kitchen that can feed 120 to 130 people,” Liss said. “We have the space.”
First, though, the Masonic leader would have to get buy-in from members of his building association, find out what exactly is required for a community disaster shelter and raise money for items that might help convert the space into a large-scale shelter.
Liss and his fellow Masons are hoping to learn more about the process of disaster planning and disaster response at the Feb. 19 meeting. Thinking that there are probably a lot of others interested in the topic out there in the Camas and Washougal area, Liss decided to open the talk and the normally private lodge to the public for Rugg’s presentation, before closing again for a private Masonic meeting after the disaster talk.
Rugg said he and other presenters usually don’t go into a community presentation with a set agenda. Rather, they like to see what the community members want to talk about.
There are a few points Rugg would like to touch on, however.
“On average, we (the American Red Cross) respond to 64,000 disaster a year in the U.S. and the vast number of those are, regretfully, fires in the home,” Rugg said. “Our goal in the next five years is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries by 25 percent. We want to help people prevent a home fire from even occurring, or get people out of the home when a fire does occur, by installing free smoke alarms.”
The Red Cross offers free smoke alarms and installation, which is something many people aren’t aware of, Rugg says. He’ll speak about this program and more at the Feb. 19 meeting.
“I like to speak to the prevention side of the Red Cross,” he said. “We know we’re going to face certain things — droughts, home fires, earthquakes, floods, winter storms — so how do we make a plan and prepare for these things?”
Rugg likely won’t have too much time to go in-depth on any one topic at the Washougal meeting, but he hopes he can at least get people thinking about basic disaster preparedness and prevention.
“What happens if you’re separated from your family? What if there’s no cell service? How do you get your family back together? What are the basics you’ll need in your kit and how many will you need? If you have a full (disaster) kit at home, it won’t do you any good if you’re in your car and away from the house,” Rugg said. “Every kit will be different depending on the needs and limitations of folks. We want people to think about their own unique situations and be prepared.”
Rugg said many people he talks to think they’re prepared — until they really look at the situation facing them. He gives the example of a woman who told him she planned to crawl out of her bedroom window in the event of a middle-of-the-night house fire. But, when they went to inspect that window, the woman discovered that she had extremely thorny rose bushes and lumber with exposed nails directly under her fire escape route.
And, of course, each type of disaster is different, Rugg said, pointing out that a kit for a summertime wildfire would be pretty different from one packed to deal with a winter ice storm.
“If there is a truly major disaster, you may be on your own for two to three weeks,” Rugg said. “Will you be able to be on your own that long? Will you have what you and your family — and your family pets — need to survive?”
Rugg views meetings like the Feb. 19 presentation at the Washougal Masonic Lodge as one more opportunity to reach folks in Southwest Washington who want to learn more about how they can help prepare themselves and their families in case something like the Cascadia quake does happen sooner rather than later.
“The object isn’t to make anyone fearful,” he said of teaching disaster prep. “If we work through this together, we can come through this and eliminate a lot of the fear.”