Self preservation is essential for effective disaster planning

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Helping Lake Oswego stay one step ahead of disaster is the executive emergency management team of, from the left, Larry Goff, Bonnie Hirshberger and David Donaldson.Too often people don’t start thinking about disaster preparation until the ground starts quivering or the river starts rising.

The Lake Oswego Executive Emergency Management Team wants to diminish that kind of thinking as much as possible.

Lake Oswego is fortunate to have a strong disaster preparedness program with people who are highly qualified in charge. Yet the effects of a flood, earthquake or snowstorm would surely be so widespread and intense that only individual preparation can assure the best outcomes under the worst circumstances. Team members Larry Goff, Bonnie Hirshberger and David Donaldson are currently updating the plan, and their highest priority now is getting local citizens interested in disaster preparation.

Goff, assistant chief with the Lake Oswego Fire Department, realizes that preparing for disaster can be somewhat overwhelming. But he has some excellent ideas about overcoming this attitude. by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: GERT ZOUTENDIJK - CERT students really get into the simulation of an earthquake at a training session last fall. The special LOFD program so far has helped 1,500 people gain expertise on disaster preparation.

“When I teach about disaster preparation, people often hesitate because they think there is so much preparation involved,” said Goff, who has served as Lake Oswego’s director of emergency preparation for the last 20 years. “I tell them to just get started. I tell them to do one or two things a month, not all at once.

“These can be simple things, like an out-of-state phone contact, keeping shoes and flashlights by your bed. The number one injury in disasters is people walking on broken glass, which can be pretty miserable. They just need to get started on things like this.”

“It’s a good idea to count the bridges you have to go over,” said Hirshberger, who is information specialist for the city of Lake Oswego. “You need to know what alternative routes you could take if some bridges go down.”

The plight of an eight-months pregnant woman in Atlanta, who was stuck in a car for 14 hours before she was finally rescued, was a national story in January. It was a near tragedy for the young woman, but a great wakeup call about the need for emergency preparation.

“What happened in Atlanta is a great example of why you should have a car kit for winter weather,” Hirshberger said. “It can be just food, water and blankets.”

Preaching the virtues of emergency preparedness is not always appreciated but it is necessary.

“It’s a continuing process,” said Donaldson, who is assistant city manager for Lake Oswego. “There is always more you need to do about emergency preparedness. It is an issue that you have to keep in front of people. It is so easy not to think about disasters happening.

“The first year we completed our plan. Now we’re reminding people about having a personal plan. The city will be there when a disaster happens, but people might be stuck as long as three or four days in their home. It might be a matter as simple as not having enough cat food. Lake Oswego is fortunate to have excellent power and sewer drains. But in a major event they will be tested to the maximum.”

“An earthquake is so sudden,” Hirshberger said. “That’s why we need to be prepared.”

Goff has long been known as Lake Oswego’s master of disaster, and Hirshberger and Donaldson joke that he will never be allowed to retire. But in all seriousness, Donaldson said, “We’ve got to try to coordinate our efforts throughout the city. We can’t expect Larry to do everything.”

Goff has answered emergency calls ranging from the flood of 1996 to the snow-in of 2008. But perhaps his most valuable contribution to emergency preparedness has been as instructor for the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program, which has trained 1,500 community members.

“When the shaking starts, it’s not a good time to make decisions,” Goff said. “People need to take a survey of their home of the places where injuries are most likely to happen, like the kitchen. We used to tell people to have a 72-hour kit. Now we want them to plan for two or three weeks. Having enough water on hand is especially important.”

Another key element in Lake Oswego’s disaster response plan is the Lake Oswego Amateur Radio Emergency Service, in which dozens of radio operators throughout the community are prepared to go into action if disaster strikes.

Still, the main message of the city’s emergency response team is that to find the person who can best ensure survival during a disaster, look in a mirror.

Meanwhile, Hirshberger said, “We learn a lot about what to do the next time from each disaster. We learned a lot from the ice storm of 2008.”

To view Lake Oswego’s emergency management plans, go to

The informational publication “Together We Prepare Oregon” is available at the main fire station at 300 SW B Ave.

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