Woman With Disabilities Adapts To Challenges Of Living Off Emergency Supplies

May 26, 2015

Experts say a megaquake off the Northwest coast could hit anytime. When it does, many of us may struggle to find safe shelter, connect with loved ones, and secure enough food and water to get by. This could be especially difficult for vulnerable populations.
As part of  OPB's "Living Off Your Kit" weekend, we followed a woman in Troutdale who has little income and lives with disabilities, as she simulated what  life would be like if she had to live off her emergency supplies.

Brook Gowin poses for a photo with the supplies she has left after living off of her her emergency preparedness kit for a weekend.
Credit Alan Sylvestre / OPB

Sixty-three-year-old Brook Gowin lights a camp stove on her patio. She's heating up her first dinner cooked entirely with earthquake emergency supplies. Tonight's menu: a can of clam chowder with canned salmon mixed in and a side of canned greens beans.
Gowin: "Hope we don't have any aftershocks. Our dinner will go all over."
Gowin knows she faces some challenges when it comes to surviving an earthquake. She  gets by on very little income and has physical limitations from sports injuries.
Gowin: "Climbing over things is very difficult for me. I have to kind of hang onto my leg and help it up and down a lot. So if I were climbing over debris trying to get out of the house, I would be – and I realize that. I know that ahead of time: I'm in trouble.”
But Gowin does have a lot of survival skills from years of camping. She has first aid training and lots of supplies that she wants to use to help her neighbors. She's even prepared to treat her cat KeeKee in a disaster.
Gowin: “I have two of these: pet emergency care handbooks. They are neat.”
Gowin relies on medication to get through the day. And she knows that after an earthquake her supply could run out.
Gowin: “There's not a whole lot that I can do. I don't have the money to stockpile. It’s not like I can get a surplus. My insurance won't cover it. They only fill a prescription when it's due.”
John Warner chairs an emergency preparedness committee in Portland. He says access to emergency supplies of medication is a real problem – particularly for people with low income who can't pay for them out of pocket.
His advice for people who know they'll need meds after an earthquake is to treat their supply like a tank of gas in their car, and always keep it at least half full.
Walker: "Then if there were a disruption then you'd have enough to get through a couple of weeks if there was a disaster."
But Gowin doesn't have a car, and that's another potential issue for her. It's good to know where to go in an emergency, she says, but she doesn't know how she'd get there.
Gowin: "My neighbors don't have cars. Many people in emergencies all they think about is themselves. They don't go around checking on their neighbors: 'Do you need a ride to a shelter?'  They're gone."
Emergency management officials say they're hoping just the opposite will happen, and that neighbors will help people with disabilities and those with few resources in the chaotic days after the big one hits. Carmen Merlo is the director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.
Merlo: “So as an individual I might not have all the supplies myself but I can rely on my neighbors, my faith group, my other social network I'm involved with to help out.”
Experts say one way people with disabilities should prepare for an earthquake is to make arrangements now with a friend or relative who is able-bodied - someone they can trust to check on them and make sure they have what they need. For Gowin, that person may be her friend in Gresham who has a car and a wood stove.
Gowin: "She's talked about if the power goes out she'll come get me. So I think I would probably be one of the first people on her mind to come and get."
After a weekend of living off her emergency supplies, Gowin says she doesn't want to worry about how bad things could be after an earthquake.
She knows how to make a fire starter out of recycled toilet paper rolls and discount candles. She knows how to conserve water and bandage wounds. But after tasting her salty canned soup and giving up on her canned green beans, she does plan on replacing her emergency food supplies with something she'd actually want to eat.

Copyright 2015 OPB