Community is Key to Disaster Preparedness   

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By: Maggie Shepherd

On a recent winter evening, people of all ages and walks of life gathered at the American Red Cross in Seattle to learn how to support themselves, their families, and their neighbors in the event of an emergency.

Three professionals, Dana Catts from the Seattle Fire Department and Kristen Tinsley and Matt Auflick from the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, engaged community members in fire extinguisher use, preparedness kit building, and disaster utility safety.

“The challenge of it is,” said Auflick, “I don’t think the stuff we talk about is what people are necessarily thinking about or prioritizing.”

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Prior to his current role, Auflick served as Mass Care Coordinator and Disaster Planning and Preparedness Manager for the American Red Cross in the greater Pittsburgh area, where he says he learned a lot about being in the field. “I think it’s different than what we do with emergency management in the city because you’re not really delivering service, you’re not on the ground. So I think [the Red Cross] gave me that context that a lot of people doing what I do don’t necessarily get.”

The audience was engaged with questions and concerns about what to do in the workplace and how to communicate in the event of a disaster. Tinsley recommends a hand-crank radio to keep updated on information during, and keeping a smaller kit of supplies at work.

Adi, a participant and local software engineer,  didn’t have a proper kit, but, “will start building it now.” He heard about the class after signing up for the Emergency Alert System and plans to help friends with the information he learned.

How to prepare your home was another focus of the presentation.   Auflick stresses that most gas leaks can be prevented by strapping down appliances and retrofitting your house. If you smell gas, turn off the gas flow at the source.

Turning off the water main into your home will ensure that any water already in the house remains available to the family (think hot water heater and the toilet tank). One participant was overheard saying the most useful thing learned was to tell renters about how to turn gas and water off.

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Auflick and Tinsley reinforced the importance of coming together as a community when disaster strikes. Pooling resources with neighbors isn’t just smart, it could save a life. A generator, for example, is critical for those dependent on medical equipment.

Auflick recommends getting in the mindset that something could happen.

It’s reassuring to remember that neighbors, communities and services like the American Red Cross and Seattle Office of Emergency Management will work together in times of need.

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