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County conducts survey on emergency preparedness

Many residents lack basic items, plan of action


Do you have a battery-operated flashlight, reserves of nonperishables, three gallons of water for every person in your household, a designated meeting space and a plan to get there?

You’re not the only one who’s behind on preparing for a catastrophic emergency, as two volunteers found out Saturday, June 4, when they went door-to-door, surveying Cornelius residents on their emergency preparedness — or lack thereof.

One Cornelius woman lacked even basic information on emergency readiness.

“I have no plan,” she said. “What do I do in an earthquake?”

When the volunteers mentioned the danger of carbon monoxide leaks that could occur during an earthquake, she asked: “What’s carbon monoxide?”

The survey program, known as a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, was held only in Washington County, although it’s connected with Cascadia Rising, a regional earthquake-training exercise running across the Pacific Northwest this week from June 7-10.

CASPER organizer Kim Repp said CASPERs are rare. Usually, they’re conducted to assess areas for improvement after disasters have already occurred, such as after a recent chemical spill in West Virginia and volcanic emissions in California.

Washington County’s preemptive assessment is “basically unprecedented,” Repp said. But with Cascadia Rising planned, plus the public concern about a large earthquake, she said, it was time.

Nena and Kevin Newsom were among the neighborhood volunteers on Saturday. For Nena, a Washington County employee, earthquake-readiness has personal significance.

Growing up in Ecuador, she saw firsthand the devastation of severe earthquakes and the lack of basic necessities.

“Everyone needed food — and water especially,” she said. In one earthquake, more than 600 people died.

People were unprepared for the devastation, said Nena, who wants to make sure Washington County is ready.

The goal of the neighborhood survey was to get “statistically valid results on emergency preparedness” in the community, Repp said, so officials can learn where preparedness could improve and which areas might need extra help in a true emergency.

“We’re getting a feel for the community and how prepared we are,” Kevin said.

They also got a feel for how resistant people were to being interrupted, even for a five-minute survey.

The Newsoms spent three hours knocking on the doors of at least 20 homes, but found only three people who agreed to speak to them, many citing a lack of time.

One participant, Greg Gibson, said he’d given “medium thought” to his preparedness, but still hadn’t done as much as he thought he should.

“I’m not significantly worried,” Gibson said, “but I try to be prepared. I’m like 5% concerned, not 90% concerned. It’s the human-caused disasters I’m most worried about.”

Nevertheless, Gibson agreed that awareness and readiness seem to be lax.

“We’re busy with day-to-day stuff. We think the government will take care of it,” he said. But basic preparedness, according to Gibson, doesn’t require much time.

“I’ve been working on simple things: an emergency backpack, more water and food.” All it takes is half a day to gather supplies and set up a plan, he said.