What does emergency preparedness mean?

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By Richard Martin

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “preparedness” as “the state of being ready or willing to do something.” In our context, emergency preparedness is to be proactive in responding to various natural and man-made hazards in our region.

I am sure you have heard the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” Not a bad piece of advice to consider. I would not suggest being paranoid about every potential danger that could befall us. Realistically, you could never be prepared for everything that could ever possibly happen to you. First, you need to be convinced that preparedness is the prudent thing to do.

Regional history gives us great hints at what has happened before – and what is likely to happen again. Let’s take the last 40 years. Before this, a volcanic eruption would have been pretty much laughable in the U.S. Then, in 1980, Mount St. Helens released 24 megatons of thermal energy, spewing 1.4 metric tons of ash and sulfur dioxide gas into the sky and over 11 states and five Canadian provinces, killing 57. We have five active volcanoes in Washington state. Mt. Baker is one of them and it is in our own backyard.

People who have lived through a disaster or serious emergency already know the importance of pre-planning. It is said that in a disaster, it only takes about three days without food and water before people become desperate, irrational and even violent. Ask survivors if it’s just “paranoid” to be prepared for an emergency.

In 2001, the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually earthquake (between Olympia and Seattle) occurred causing massive damage and injuring several hundred. Damage was even recorded as far away as Victoria, B.C.

In November 2015, approximately 185,000 western Washington residents were without electrical power, some for weeks, as the result of powerful wind storms that contributed to the deaths of three people. Each time something like this happens, people start asking questions about preparedness and how to respond in an emergency. Sadly, most of that wears off within a few months, and people start selling their brand new generators at garage sales and in the classifieds section.

Natural and man-made events can be researched and observed based on regional statistics, various weather conditions, emergency response times and capabilities, news agency reports or warnings issued for our area. Your approach to emergency preparedness should be based on logic. Not fear or paranoia. Awareness is the key to starting in the right direction.

Simple logic tells us that the ratio between emergency responders and citizens is extremely unbalanced. This is why every emergency response entity across the planet urges you to have at least 72 hours’ worth of supplies to function until responders can reach you (if necessary) in an emergency scenario. For our region, that “call” has been expanded to two weeks’ worth of emergency supplies, as confirmed by the Washington State Emergency Management Division. This should tell you something that apathy and complacency would otherwise ignore.

Additionally, our region is susceptible to wildfires, winter storms, flooding and avalanches. This is not paranoia. This is awareness. Education on regional hazards and doing a personal assessment to determine your strengths, weaknesses and options are key to putting together a comprehensive (while still rational) plan for your family now. Each family is unique. Shouldn’t your emergency plan be, too?

Richard Martin is the director of the non-profit group NorthWest Emergency Preparedness (NWEP).

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