Aug 2nd, 2019

Not If, but When: Getting Prepared for the Big One and Other Natural Disasters

Barbara Jensen

Barbara Jensen

On July 12, 2019, many of us were woken up – not just by the 4.6 magnitude earthquake which shook the Puget Sound region, but also by the fact that if we haven’t done it already, we really do need to prepare our families and ourselves to respond to an emergency situation. Whether it is preparing for an earthquake, brutal snowstorm, hurricane-force wind, urban or rural wildfire, or flooding, most of us tend to wait for a “good time” to get going on the task. It’s human nature to put off that which is not perceived to be immediately needed. But that 4.6 earthquake could just as easily have been a 6.4 magnitude or greater. And when that happens (yes, WHEN it happens, not IF it happens), it will be too late for those of us who shoulda, coulda, woulda… if we only had the time.  

We recently spoke with a local leader in disaster preparedness, Barbara Jensen. Ms. Jensen is not only a nurse and manager of EvergreenHealth system’s Trauma Services, but she is also a Certified Healthcare Emergency Professional (CHEP), one of only six emergency managers to hold the CHEP certification in WA State. Following the July earthquake, Ms. Jensen was interviewed by KING-5 about emergency preparedness. Watch her interview HERE. Later she spoke to us about why people avoid preparing for disasters and the type of circumstances we may face when a severe event does occur. 

“Individuals not being prepared is always the challenge in emergency management,” said Ms. Jensen. “There are many reasons for lack of preparedness. Some people say it costs too much, they’re too scared, and/or they don’t know what to do. To these folks, I say ‘Take small steps. Tell yourself that you will take this year to get yourselves and your family ready and then every week when you go to the grocery store pick up one thing to go in your Emergency Preparedness Kit.’ For those people who are paralyzed by fear, this “small steps” approach can often work.

“I also remind people that there are things they can do at home that don’t cost a thing,” Ms. Jensen continued. “Develop a Family Preparedness Plan so that everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Know where certain things in the house are like flashlights and extra batteries, candles, propane heater, bottled water, extra blankets, and food. Write it down and post it in a central place. One of the things I always stress is the importance of having an out-of-state emergency contact. When a disaster hits, local communication lines may be down, and you may lose power. That means no email. It is usually easier to call or text someone out of state. Everyone in the family should be trained to call the emergency contact person and let them know where they are and if they are okay.

“Another point I always make is the importance of having cash on hand. If a major disaster hits the area, the banks will not be open, the ATM’s won’t work. We will quickly move to a cash economy and will need to operate independently and be ready to care for ourselves. Transportation will also be impacted. Bridges, roads, and overpasses may be down. When the transportation corridors are down that will paralyze the supply chain. Grocery store shelves will be bare. The pharmacy will be closed.

“Police officers and firefighters will not be able to rescue everyone. We could be operating under very different circumstances than we are used to, and I tell people to have cash, not credit, debit or ATM cards, to last for 2-3 weeks. You’ll also need canned and packaged food and water. The point is we all must take individual responsibility. Don’t expect someone to swoop in and save you. Start your preparations today,” Ms. Jensen concluded.  

You’ve heard it from the expert. Prepared-ness is every person’s responsibility. Next month we will focus on the Emergency Preparedness Kit and what to do if you are with your older or disabled client or family member when an emergency situation occurs. We will also provide helpful resources that will move you along the path to becoming better prepared. In the meanwhile, if you want to learn more about disaster preparedness, here are some helpful websites:

www.ready.gov

https://mil.wa.gov/preparedness

www.safehome.org/resources/emergency-prep-guide/

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