By: Betsy Robertson
Photo by: Shant Tersakian
Nestled high along the northernmost edge of Washington State sits a geographic oddity. Four and half square miles of Whatcom County that is only accessible by crossing two international borders. In Point Roberts, Washington they say, “happiness is contagious,” but there is another philosophy that governs the 1,300 residents who live there.
“The old time residents have been here all their lives,” said Virginia Lester. “They knew the community was isolated and they had to be able to take care of themselves. They developed strong bonds. They help each other.”
Virginia just stepped down after 3 years as president of the Point Roberts Emergency Preparedness group (PREP). As the title suggests, she’s a big advocate for personal and community-wide preparedness efforts.
“We know and we’ve been told by FEMA and Whatcom County – that our location is such that we will not get help if a major earthquake hits the west coast,” said Virginia. “That we will have to fend for ourselves for three weeks or longer.”
So Virginia turned to another ally to support her mission of preparing Point Roberts. In one of her final acts as president of the preparedness group, she asked the American Red Cross to help.
Sue Hibma, a 12-year veteran of the Red Cross, responded to that call. She volunteers with the Northwest Washington Chapter in multiple roles, including as a Mass Care Coordinator in charge of feeding and sheltering during local disasters. Sue and a partner spent a snowy December day training 20 people on how to operate the Red Cross mass care feeding trailer stationed in Point Roberts*.
“They’re an important resource, but we have to make sure we have Red Cross trained volunteers available to operate them,” said Sue.
As the nation’s officially chartered disaster response organization, the American Red Cross is expected to respond within 2 hours. Having mass care feeding trailers strategically positioned throughout the region helps make that possible.
“They are completely mobile kitchens, fully stocked,” according to Sue. “They can be pulled up to any location and be feeding community members and emergency responders within an hour’s time.”
Freshly trained on how to fire-up the burners and start preparing hot food in an emergency, Virginia Lester and her PREP team are reenergized about their community resource.
Maybe their town motto should change to “Point Roberts, WA – where preparedness is contagious!”
*In 2007, the Northwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross received a grant from Homeland Security to purchase four of the mass care feeding trailers. Today those trailers are positioned in Point Roberts, Concrete, Burlington and Bellingham.