Doug Cummins - When the 9.0 awakens us ...

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. All of a sudden, the ground begins to shake violently. Things start falling off shelves and walls in your bedroom. It’s that dreaded 9.0 earthquake that everyone has been predicting.

You think to yourself, “Why didn’t I follow the suggestions of the experts and get a survival kit ready? Why didn’t I get some additional training to be able to help with a disaster?”

This is how most people in our country respond during any major disaster. It doesn’t matter if it’s an earthquake, flood, tornado or other major event where the infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. People should be ready to take care of themselves, their family and their neighbors for three to seven days.

Those of us in the business of emergency management know we will be on our own for at least that length of time. Outside help will be prioritized to the areas of greatest population, such as Portland, Salem and Eugene.

We have been very lucky in McMinnville. We have not had many major events requiring assistance from outside our area. In the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, hurricane-force winds took out the infrastructure for several days. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 brought volcanic ash to our city, and a major snowstorm in 2008 dumped 2 feet of snow on the valley floor.

We have a very small chance of major flooding within the city, thanks to the planning done by our city forefathers. Lower City Park and Joe Dancer Park flood almost every year, but no structures are threatened. Yes, it may be inconvenient when these areas close because of flooding, but damage is very limited.

 The fact that we have had few major incidents may be partially responsible for our lack of preparedness locally; we may feel complacent, and complacency escalates risk.

A limited number of local emergency responders (fire, police and public works) are available to respond during these times. We have mutual-aid agreements with neighboring agencies, but in a major disaster, those agencies may be taking care of their own cities and districts. They may not be able to assist us here.

During a disaster, just like normal operations, 24-hour coverage is required to help anyone in need. We will have to divide our staff to assure that someone can respond to calls for help at all times of the day and night. We simply don’t have enough responders to reach everyone quickly. When the emergency happens, we will have to rely on fellow citizens to help. We also must use some of our trained responders in the city’s Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate the city’s response and recovery after the disaster.

For residents who want to prepare themselves for a major emergency, McMinnville offers free training: Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). We began offering training in 2011 with 25 people in the eight-session course. Today, more than 80 people have completed CERT. When disaster strikes, team members are ready to help themselves, their neighborhoods and the rest of the city and county.

Classes include training in disaster preparedness, fire safety, disaster medical, light search and rescue, disaster psychology, CERT organization, terrorism and practical exercises. Most sessions take two and a half hours in the evening. To allow for sufficient light to make trial exercises safe, one hands-on session is held on Saturday. We make sure everyone has the chance to practice skills learned in the classroom.

The main idea for CERT is to maintain pockets of citizens trained to respond to their individual neighborhoods in the event of a disaster. Of course, the team members must first make sure their own families are safe. We teach them to regard themselves and their families as their first priority. The effectiveness of their neighborhood response would be lessened if they were worried about the safety of their own loved ones.

People who have completed CERT training also help out with non-emergency events. They staff first-aid stations for events, distribute disaster-preparedness information and recruit others to take CERT training. Additional training opportunities are made available, optional but highly recommended. To allow team members to refresh their training and practice their skills, basic class sessions are open to all past trainees.

For those living or working outside the city limits of McMinnville, Yamhill County also has a CERT program. The county holds courses several times a year in locations from Newberg to Willamina. For information on the county program, call Sue Lamb or Jessica Johnson of Yamhill County Emergency Management at 503-434-7340.

For information on the McMinnville program, visit www.macpd.org, and click on the CERT tab, where you will find the CERT brochure and registration application. If you would like to attend future classes, complete the application and return it to the police department. For questions, you can contact me by e-mail at cummind@ci.mcminnville.or.us.

Guest writer Doug Cummins, with 28 years in the McMinnville Police Department, is McMinnville’s emergency program manager. He also is a captain and a former paramedic with the fire department. He has two grown sons and enjoys outdoor activities.


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