DEM offers disaster preparedness tips

Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Senior Emergency Program Manager Mark Murphy advises members of the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce on May 13 how to respond to disasters. - Kirk Boxleitner
Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Senior Emergency Program Manager Mark Murphy advises members of the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce on May 13 how to respond to disasters.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

SMOKEY POINT — As the area continues to recover from the March 22 Oso slide, Snohomish County representatives spoke to the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber about how home and business owners can help mitigate the impacts of natural disasters.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when another disaster is going to strike,” Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Senior Emergency Program Manager Mark Murphy said  May 13. “North America is the most hazard-prone place in the world, the Puget Sound region is earthquake country and Snohomish County is the most flood-prone county in Washington state.

“We have a lowland snow event just about every year here, and Snohomish County even has its own volcano,” he added, referring to Glacier Peak. “If it ever goes off, it’ll make Mount St. Helens look like a joke.”

Murphy advised people to keep hard-copy print-outs of the phone numbers of family members and friends, in their wallets and purses. He asked the Chamber of Commerce members for a show of hands of how many of them actually remember those phone numbers, rather than just relying on their phones’ memory.

“In the event of a natural disaster, you’re going to have about three minutes to make phone calls before the phone lines are overloaded, so whatever calls you have to make, do that right away,” Murphy said. “After that, the only way you’ll be able to get in touch with people by phone is through text messages or emails. If you’re going to text someone, make sure they know how to read and reply to texts,” he added, recalling an incident before his wife became conversant in texting.

One quirk of the local phone lines going into system overload is that you can often make calls to other areas of the country.

“So if you have an aunt in Des Moines, you can call them, and then have them call whoever you want to get a message to here,” Murphy said. “You can also update your voice message, so when people call you and can’t get through, the message will tell them where you are, where you’re going, and when you expect to be there.”

Murphy recommended a hand-crank radio in case a solar flare takes out the power grid, and noted that the Internet is accessible even when phone lines are not.

“Update your status on Facebook or Twitter to reflect your actual status in the midst of an emergency,” Murphy said. “Even if you don’t have a landline phone, you can register your phone for reverse 911 calls, to update you on emergencies and disasters in your area.”

Before he turned the program over to county DEM Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Dara Salmon, Murphy encouraged people to keep their insurance, prescription and power of attorney forms in a file safe, along with cash and coins.

While Murphy’s final tip was for those evacuating their homes, Salmon’s advice on food was tailored toward those who might find themselves homebound for extended periods of time.

“You’ll need some extra food in case you can’t get to the store the next day,” said Salmon, who maintains a deep pantry at her own home, with the newest foods stocked in the back, so that the oldest foods will be eaten first. “Rather than worrying that you have to rush out and buy a whole bunch of food and supplies, just build up your stores a little bit each month.”

Salmon reminded families not to forget about diapers and pet food, and suggested storing those near an entrance.

“You’ll want foods that don’t require refrigeration, in case you’re without power,” Salmon said. “They probably shouldn’t require too much water, either, since your water might be limited.

“Avoid salty foods, since those will just make you more thirsty,” she added. “And don’t buy foods that you don’t already eat, because you don’t want the adjustment of dealing with new or unfamiliar foods to add to your stress levels.”

In the event of an earthquake, Salmon explained that the county will not evacuate people from homes that are still standing, so in lieu of utilities, they should have sleeping bags and extra clothes, so they can dress in layers and stay warm.

“Think about the special needs of small children or pets,” Salmon said. “Keep stashes of pet food and water in your pet carrier. If anyone in your family is pregnant or ill, they’ll need extra consideration as well.”

Salmon maintains an emergency kit for her car, with a flashlight, pens and paper, snacks and a blanket.

“Stock your own list of car supplies based on how far and how often you travel,” Salmon said. “If you go over mountain passes frequently, more supplies are a must.”

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