Classes teach residents how to prepare for disasters

If a serious disaster were to occur in Linn County, emergency responders, 9-1-1 call centers and help could be days away.

County and city officials throughout the county are holding a number of classes funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over the next year to help residents prepare for disaster.

Class topics include emergency preparedness and disaster first aid, which teaches people how to triage, assessing and prioritizing patients as well as providing initial first aid, in the wake of a disaster.

The thinking is that if a disaster occurs, 9-1-1 will be overwhelmed, said Melissa Clark, a Vista volunteer with Linn County Sheriff’s Office. The free classes will be set up by request with different groups of people who are interested.

Emergency preparedness classes have already been offered. The first aid classes will be offered the first of next year.

“We just really encourage people to take this,” Clark said. Many people think disaster can’t happen here.

Clark is from Georgia, and the thinking there was similar, she said. That state has had more rain than it has seen in a hundred years, causing disastrous flood events.

Right now, officials believe the most likely disaster to affect Linn County would be a pandemic, LCSO Community Services Specialist Jo Ann McQueary said. “Strap yourself in because we may be in for a ride with influenza.”

The county also is vulnerable to earthquakes, including giant subduction zone quakes, said Jim Howell, who heads Linn County’s emergency planning.

Officials held one of the first classes on emergency preparedness in Tangent with the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together group and other community members from around the county on Sept. 25.

During the class, officials explained what steps residents should take prior to a disaster to be ready.

A couple of days before, Howell said, he looked at a “Popular Mechanics” magazine article on what to do to survive.

Among tips, he said, people should be prepared. When the disaster strikes, they must avoid panicking.

Attitude is important as well, he said. After Hurricane Katrina, people in the area survived for months without electricity. They were survivors.

“Are you a survivor?” he asked. “It had a lot to do with attitude. Take a deep breath. Look around and see what’s happening. Don’t give up. A lot of this stuff is psychological.”

“The most important person in a disaster is you, then out to family and neighbors to make sure they are OK,” Clark said. People should work with their neighbors to map out the neighborhood and make plans ahead of time.

“Identify the skills and resources you have in case resources are not able to get to your area within 10 days,” Clark said. The map should show where to go and what places need immediate attention in a disaster.

Before heading out into the neighborhood, a few things need to be taken care of at home, McQueary said. “Initially, following the disaster, take care of your loved ones.”

Next, she said, people need to protect their head, feet and hands against falling debris, broken glass and other possible hazards with a hard hat, sturdy shoes and gloves.

Check natural gas and shut it off if it’s leaking, McQueary said. “This is one of the best ways to prevent fire.”

Water should be turned off at the main, she said. Otherwise pollutants and contaminants could enter the home from elsewhere.

If help is needed at home, people should place a “help” sign in the window. If not, then residents should put an “OK” sign in the window, so neighbors know who needs help and who doesn’t.

Home fire extinguishers should be placed on the sidewalk so they are readily available wherever they are needed in the neighborhood, McQueary said. After this, residents are ready to venture out.

At that point, people should go to the neighborhood’s gathering site, a place determined previously by residents, she said.

From there, teams should be formed to listen to emergency radio transmissions; check on neighbors who are elderly, have a disability or children home alone; check natural gas meters and propane tanks, which should be marked on the map, shutting them off as necessary.

They should also check on all homes with a “help” card displayed in the front door or window or with no card showing, prepared to give first aid.

After that, teams should return to the gathering site and report

In addition to a gathering site, LCSO Community Services Specialist Cathy Morris said, neighborhoods should designate a care center for children, the disabled and elderly.

Beforehand, the map should include information about what resources, skills and equipment, exist within a neighborhood, Morris said. Among such resources might be chainsaws or RVs with refrigerators to keep medicines cold.

Neighbors should ask whether people are willing to share those resources in the event of an emergency, she said. “You can’t make anyone do anything.”

The map and information should be kept in order, Morris said, “so when someone else looks at it and doesn’t know your community it makes sense to them.”

The county has good GIS maps, which could be used to develop neighborhood maps, McQueary said.

Neighborhoods should plan for three days minimum without help, Morris said. Ideally, plans would account for five to seven days.

For information contact Gina Riley at 367-5181 at Sweet Home Police Department.