Citizens still polishing emergency storm response

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX/Chinook Observer</I><BR>The National Weather Service in Portland has issued a series of high wind warnings and high surf advisories for the south Washington coast. Wind gusts reached 98 mph at Cape Disappointment early Monday morning. Occasionally heavy rains have filled in numerous low places on the Peninsula, including this seasonal pond at Lighthouse Oceanfront Resort on Pacific Highway, which almost seems to invite turning the resort's lighthouse sign into a real beacon for mariners. Although some of the worst storms are tracking far to our south, University of Washington forecaster Cliff Mass last week warned "These are events that could bring hurricane-force gusts to the coast. A multiple event with such strong components is not common." Lots of wind and rain are on tap for the next week. Watch the Observer's Web site for updated weather warnings.

PENINSULA - Another series of winter storms has reactivated a group of concerned citizens to continue "Eye of the Storm" (EOS) meetings, originally begun by Nanci Main in January 2008, to focus on emergency and disaster preparedness.

Jim Sayce first called a group together after the storm and power outage in November 2009 and a second meeting took place last week.

Sixteen people gathered at the Pacific County Administrative Building on Sandridge, including convenor Jim Sayce; Pacific County Emergency Response Director Stephanie Fritts; amateur radio operators Frank Wolfe and Ed Archer; original Eye of the Storm facilitator, Nanci Main; Republican pundit and community organizer, Nansen Malin; Shelly Pollock, of Grass Roots Garbage Gang and NW Insurance and Financial; and Jacob Brundage, Ocean Park Fire chief, and staff.

The group discussed different aspects of what makes for a prepared community.

"I'm encouraged to see that the spirit of community is carrying on this important work," says Main. "When I brought the community together for our first Eye of the Storm gathering, my vision was that there would be gatherings and community involvement just like this."

"Some seeds took hold right away - the hams really stepped up and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) were formed. Some seeds take longer to bloom," Main continues. "Having this recent string of storms renews the memory of that big event and reinvigorates our commitment."

Trained for Emergencies

Fire Chief Brundage shared that during the freezing weather, the trained members of the Community Emergency Response Teams went into neighborhoods and found 80 unoccupied homes where pipes had broken and they were able to turn off water mains.

Frank Wolfe gave a presentation on the success of local amateur radio operators to increase their ranks and to establish a broader network of ham radio sites in the event the phone lines are down.

"Hams hit the deck running after the 2007 storm," says Wolfe, "recruiting new members, holding classes both for license exam preparation and further education in the basics and beyond."

Ham radio equipment has been installed in many public gathering places, including the Ocean Park fire hall and the Peninsula Senior Activity Center, so that if or when phone lines go down again, amateur radio operators can fill the gaps in basic communications.

Wolfe reminds us that despite a better coordinated network of local services, it is up to each individual household to prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

"We should all have a supply of everything we need for at least 72 hours standing by," says Wolfe. "When a disaster strikes, we may be on our own for at least that long.

"For hams, that also means being able to pass the word, when all other means of communication fail," he adds.

Be Prepared The basics needed for any household in an emergency include water, food, and provisions for shelter, warmth, light and basic medical supplies. Supplies should be easily accessible in quantities sufficient for household members for three days.

Although our PUD crews did an efficient job of getting power back on in the storm outage before Thanksgiving, many people were caught again without the needed supplies and equipment.

Long lines at Jack's Country Store and Okie's Thriftway were evidence that people were not properly prepared. Most people were purchasing flashlights, canned goods and candles.

In fact, Jack's Country Store itself was operating with flashlights and there was limited access to perishables. (Jack's has since placed a back-up generator online.)

There was also discussion about the neighborhood mapping initiative spearheaded by Nancy Gorshe after the hurricane of '07. This process enables people to know what resources are available in their immediate neighborhood as well as who may be the most vulnerable in times of emergency.

Social Networking Nansen Malin, an expert on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, gave a presentation on the use of these sites in an emergency.

She pointed out that during the Thanksgiving '09 power outage, she was getting regular updates from Emergency Director Fritts via cell phone text messages.

Malin indicated that these Internet sites are the new tools for quick communication and are the ones most used by young people. Fritts confirmed that all forms of communications will be used - some will likely fail but others may be in place.

Sayce has taken advantage of this social networking technology and created a Facebook site called "Eye of the Storm Pacific County."

The Facebook site includes a compendium of information, a string of e-mail communications, and has the capacity to be a repository of photos, maps or other images.

The site has 200 community members so far and is open to the public. Already the site is functioning as a place where news articles and alerts are posted.

It is clear that preparing for an emergency is not all work - Fritts is listed on the site as being in charge of "Head for the Hills."

Get Updated Online "The next meeting hasn't been set yet," says Sayce, "but keep updated by checking the Facebook site."

"I'm pleased, though not totally surprised, about the interest in EOS," Sayce continues. "We get hit by storms and people remember that. The difficulty is making it automatic."

"As my wife says, it's about the two-minute drill," he continues. "The drill is to collect your wits, your family and your disaster kit in under two minutes and be ready for action."

"I would like to see responding to a natural disaster be like clamming, just an expected part of life at the beach," Sayce says. "It comes with the territory."

For more information join the Eye of the Storm Pacific County Facebook page. Future meetings will also be noted in the Chinook Observer community calendar.

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