J. Cowan

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Emergency management officials from Keizer and Marion County have a message: Get serious about disaster preparation.

Leaders from the county, American Red Cross, City of Keizer and Keizer Fire District emphasized that while local disaster management plans are in place, it could be days before help arrives if a disaster strikes multiple communities in the Mid-Valley. They delivered their message to the Keizer Chamber of Commerce luncheon last month.

“You can’t expect a whole lot of help like Aumsville had” when a tornado struck the community in December of 2010, said Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano, should a disaster strike more than one town.

But, he added, “Aumsville had just finished their emergency operations plan and were able to open the book. It was fresh and good.”

Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan noted that fear of massive computer failures when the year 2000 came around led many residents, businesses and agencies to prepare “like we were going to have an earthquake,” stocking up on the essentials like food, gas, water, batteries and essential medications.

Cowan recommends having at least two weeks worth of must-have medicine, and never letting your car get below a half-tank. He also urged keeping a week’s worth of food and water in the home, rotating the stock so it doesn’t get stale.

The theme was taking shelter where you are: In a massive earthquake, for example, it’s possible every freeway bridge between Keizer and Portland could have collapsed.

Cowan spelled out some possibilities in the minutes, hours and days after a catastrophic disaster in the Mid-Valley.

“Take that cell phone and set it on the table, because it’s a paperweight,” Cowan said. “… All of us that have cable TV instead of network broadcast, you’re not going to get TV.”

Jeff Kresner, emergency services director for the Willamette chapter of the American Red Cross, likewise emphasized low-tech supplies, showing off a hand-cranked flashlight featuring an AM-FM-Weather radio. These are periodically available at the Red Cross office but are frequently on backorder due to their popularity, he said.

Drinking out of the toilet bowl may be for the dogs, but with disrupted utility service Cowan said the water in the tank may be for the man.

“If you go three, four days without water that water’s going to taste pretty good,” Cowan said. “Those are some of the pragmatic things we have to think about.”

Other recommendations from the fire chief included learning CPR and keeping working fire extinguishers in the home.

“(Sometimes) calling 911 isn’t going to work so you’ll need to help yourself,” Cowan said.

While the tips were useful for anyone, the theme was how businesses should prepare for disaster. Both John Vanderzanden and Kevin Watson, emergency managers for Marion County and Keizer, respectively, said to write down what essential equipment and personnel are needed to keep an operation functioning at some level.

“We’ve got to pay people, we’ve got to write checks … we need pens, we need phones,” Watson said. “What do you need to pick up? What’s essential to your day to day functions?”

Watson said Keizer officials maintain a list of volunteers with practical skills and equipment, like dump trucks.