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Before Disaster Strikes, It Pays To Prepare

bloody mock
Tiffany Eckert

When it comes to potential disasters in the Pacific Northwest, forest fires and floods are the most likely. Scientists at Oregon State University predict the Cascadia Earthquake--the “big one”-- will hit the region.  It could be in the next five minutes or next century. KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert reports on regional disaster response efforts and how every citizen can prepare for a serious emergency.

This is a drill. It is only a drill. The participants in this mock disaster exercise are acting out a scenario that is based in real-life possibility.  The scene you just heard is from a “rehearsal” for the aftermath of a 9.0 earthquake. A building has collapsed on about 30 people, fires have started. It’s chaotic.

Dr. Geoff Simmons is an internist in Eugene and senior advisor to the Community Emergency Response Teams or CERT.

Simmons: “A drill is to find out what you do wrong more than what you do right. So they're learning their mistakes and coordinating all stuff we taught them.”

Stuff like triage; how to put out fires; disaster psychology.  

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Dr. Geoff Simmons directs CERT trainees during disaster drill.

Simmons: “Most people who survive disasters are saved by people who are on the scene.”
More than 900 people have been trained in Eugene's CERT Program since it started ten years ago. The goal is to have a certified member in *every neighborhood.  But anyone can take steps to prepare for disaster and home is the place to start. Simmons says all households should have a kit with the essentials to live for at least three days…

Simmons: “But, we often ask people to do it for two weeks. Since Katrina, we’ve expanded that now. And, you have to have special things for pets and babies. And your life may be such that you need (siren) you have disabilities and you have to have certain things. Prepare ahead of time and prepare well. And, pay attention and have a radio so you know what you’re supposed to do—should you evacuate or should you stay put.”

To make a mock disaster drill work, you need “victims.”  19-year old Jessica Miller volunteered to fill that role. This time, she is one of the unlucky ones.

Miller: “I got hit in the head by, I think, a falling cement block and it killed me.”

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Volunteer mock victim Jessica Miller shows her mortal wounds.

Miller lives in the tiny town of Monroe where she’s part of the Central Aid Agency’s Rapid Response Team. She says the CERT training prepared her for serious situations in real time.

Miller: “Like a couple weeks ago I witnessed a car accident and I was able to kind of take control cuz I was the first one there figuring out everybody’s who’s hurt, who isn’t hurt. Get the authorities on the line to get them there. And then a couple other people helped to direct traffic because it was one quite a busy highway.”

Police, Fire, and EMS—first responders--undergo constant training to prepare for disasters, whether natural or human-caused. A very real emergency occurred at the Clackamas Mall last December when a 22-year old gunman opened fire on shoppers and employees. Two people were killed and one seriously injured. It was a random act of violence. Totally unpredictable.

Joe Rizzi is the president of the Oregon Emergency Management Association. At their annual conference in Eugene, the focus is on “active shooters.”  He says a lot of what we thought has changed.

Rizzi: “It’s no longer that you sit there and do whatever the person says that you do. But it’s really a different mantra. You’ve heard some announcements about that like ‘run, hide, fight.’ And the goal is you can’t be a part of the victim pool. You can’t just sit there and wait for an incident to resolve itself.

Rizzi says most active shooter incidents happen in 3 to 5 minutes.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Joe Rizzi, President of the Oregon Emergency Management Association, helped organize the first CERT trainings in Eugene ten years ago.

Rizzi:“And it takes that long to get first responders on the scene. So, it’s really life and death is in your own hands and the people around you. So you have to take action. You can’t just sit by and wait.”

It pays to be prepared. Because, when it comes to a disaster striking, it’s not a question of if but when.

For more information on free CERT trainings:
http://www.eugene-or.gov › Departments › Central Services › Risk Services?

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.