Originally published in the Everett Herald Business Journal: Thursday, February 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m., http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20130228/OPINION01/702289953#Preparing-for-the-big-one


Disaster preparedness, like life insurance, is an often compartmentalized must-do. Potential horrors, such as a massive, subduction-zone earthquake, are shoehorned into the subconscious, with occasional cameos in film and nightmares. All the while, Northwesterners can’t wish away geology. Reflexive denial or “we have an extra flashlight” falls short when the big one hits and basic infrastructure — including communication — takes a whack.

The Snohomish County Red Cross (it includes Camano Island) is working with other Puget Sound chapters and community partners to launch the “Safe in the Sound” preparedness campaign, a three-year push to inspire action, provide innovative and accessible preparedness training (targeted to the most vulnerable populations) and building sustainable preparedness networks. The takeaway is to prepare, not scare (for scare, tune in to NOVA or other educational programming featuring computer-generated graphics.)

With the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as a backdrop, the Red Cross emphasizes that Washington is second only to California for risk of earthquake-related damage to basic infrastructure. A growing Puget Sound region that supports 4.5 million residents is especially vulnerable, with the Seattle area placing fifth among areas nationwide likely to absorb a massive hit. Soon. Nevertheless, only 50 percent of local households have disaster kits (the extra flashlight doesn’t count) and less than 30 percent know how to corral help when evacuating.

The Snohomish County Red Cross, first among equals in its professionalism and service to families in need, underlines that in a major disaster, neighbors are the first responders. Currently, the Puget Sound-area Red Cross responds to a disaster every 16 hours. Scale that a thousand fold with a subduction quake, coupled with transportation, phone and Internet disruptions. It won’t be pretty, and restoring services will take a long, long time.

“Safe in the Sound” extends to coastal communities that could be wiped out in a tsunami. The mission is ambitious but manageable: to build capacity to “withstand, quickly adapt to and successfully recover from disasters and emergencies.” In addition to a media blitz and dedicated website (www.safeinthesound.org) the campaign is pushing training, including an online course on its website as well as in-person disaster preparedness in CPR and first aid. Then come the basics: families should practice a home-evacuation plan, establish an out-of-area contact, and build or purchase a disaster kit. These rules are especially relevant for the elderly and low-income families (73 percent of poor families do not have a disaster supply kit.) Red Cross executive director Chuck Morrison, an inspired leader who has breathed life into the local chapter, is working hard to make whole the success of “Safe in the Sound.” The rest is up to us.

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