By editorial board • 

Reorganization shouldn’t curb Mac’s disaster prep efforts

There is some subtle irony in the public objections raised in response to McMinnville’s decision to cut its half-time emergency management coordinator position. 

After all, isn’t one key message of Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake preparedness that when disaster strikes, you shouldn’t expect the government to be there for you, that you should assume its key elements will have been knocked out of commission?

As a report by the Oregon Emergency Management agency put it, “It is our responsibility as individuals, neighborhoods and communities to reduce risks, to prepare for the critical period immediately after the earthquake, and to make sure that planning for earthquakes and tsunamis has the high priority it deserves.”

Of course, local governments must remain active in disaster prep. As City Manager Jeff Towery said at Wednesday night’s budget meeting, the city isn’t abandoning its efforts to plan for “The Big One,” now overdue in light of the historical record. In fact, the city built in funding for a new assistant fire marshal as part of a reorganization of city services that will affect its disaster prep efforts moving forward. 

“We’re not backing away from the CERT program,” Towery said, using the acronym for Community Emergency Response Team. “We are building our capacity to do inspections and other critical tasks.”

That answer makes sense to us. After all, the end goal is to ensure our public agencies are ready to work together in case of a potential magnitude 9.0 quake.
That objective can be facilitated through roundtable discussion among agency leaders. It doesn’t require a designated point person on the city staff.
In fact, that position can become an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, thus actually get in the way. Agencies need to learn to talk to one another, not rely on go-betweens or shortcuts.

The city’s CERT position has become somewhat redundant in any event, as the county continues to operate a robust CERT program headed by Brian Young. That’s a resource the city can and should continue to partner with, while its fire department (those who will be responding) take a more active role in the process.

Many of those who opposed the decision to cut the post — currently held by Doug Cummins, a popular figure in the community — count themselves among the approximately 150 graduates of the basic CERT training class. Over the years, the program has successfully created additional resources the community can bring to bear in the face of a disaster, and the outpouring is a manifestation.

While we don’t see the necessity of a dedicated city staff post, we do support CERT training. In fact, we view it as an essential tool.

When the roads crumble and water lines burst, your first line of defense will be you and those around you, making preparing citizens to assist themselves and others priority one.

The McMinnville CERT website urges citizens to make a plan, build a kit, stay informed and know their neighbors, which should remain the foundation.
We should not be looking to government to bail us out in the event of an emergency. We should be looking to one another.

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