Emergency responders gather for weeklong event outside Bend


PORTLAND — Nearly 500 emergency managers and first responders from almost every Oregon city and county, as well as tribal, state and federal agencies, gathered Tuesday outside Bend, Oregon, for training and to review lessons learned from recent disasters, including an oil train derailment last summer in the Columbia River Gorge.

The three-day event co-sponsored by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the Oregon Health Authority is intended to build relationships between first responders in a relaxed setting to create a more coordinated response in a real crisis.

“We don't do much as emergency managers in a vacuum, and it's predicated on relationships,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Office of Emergency Management. “It's important that you can call them at 3 o'clock in the morning and they know who you are.”

Attendees this year will hear presentations on lessons learned from the oil train derailment last June in Mosier that sparked a large fire and will review the Cascadia Rising earthquake simulation last summer that involved agencies from all levels of government and military across Washington and Oregon.

It's the third year of the conference, and this year attendees will get a more robust training schedule that includes courses on public health from state health authorities. One of the goals is to review laws that can help public officials control an outbreak, such as quarantine laws, said Cory Grogan, spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management.

“These are the things most of our emergency managers don't get to deal with a lot,” he said. The Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015 was a wake-up call on the importance of addressing public health in such trainings, Grogan said.

The virus’ surge in West Africa two years ago was Ebola's deadliest ever. About 11,300 people died starting in December 2013, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — but it also spread to the United States in isolated areas.

Another area covered will be how to harness social media for getting out updates and evacuation information during a disaster and how to get ahead of rumors that can spread online and hamper an emergency response. Building better relationships with traditional media partners is also important, emergency managers said.

“Really the concept that just about any citizen can post on social media, it poses some challenges. The expectation for real-time information out in the community has evolved so much (that) sometimes the community wants it even before we get it,” said Nathan Garibay, Deschutes County emergency services manager.

The conference runs through Thursday at Sunriver, about 20 miles southwest of Bend.


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