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Prepping on the homefront

Much of disaster preparedness centers on individual homes

PAMPLIN MEDIA FILE PHOTO - Newer homes, like this former Street of Dreams home in West Linn, have been built to codes to withstand seismic episodes but homeowners should still know how to disconnect utilties and bolt heavy objects to the wall. Perhaps more than anything else, minor emergencies in the United States amount to a waiting game.

Be it a power outage, lost Internet connection or boil water notice, consumers are taught to notify the corresponding agency and, well, wait.

Yet as West Linn and the greater Pacific Northwest grapple with the prospect of a devastating earthquake forecasted within the next 50 years, city officials and emergency experts are working to change that mentality. The bitter truth, they say, is that in a severe disaster situation, residents and neighborhoods will largely be on their own in the immediate aftermath of the event, and thus should prepare accordingly.

“Sometimes people don’t realize that they are self-contained, so to speak,” West Linn Public Works Director Lance Calvert said. “Even something like your personal hot water heater is a source of water for you that could last several days if handled appropriately. So you don’t have to be like the Doomsday Preppers.

“You already are a ‘prepper’ sometimes and you don’t even realize it.”

Know your home

Throw a blindfold around the average homeowner, and it’s likely he or she would still be able to make their way from room to room and point out where all of the everyday essentials are.

Yet when it comes to power switches, circuit breakers and water heaters, many are near clueless — blindfolded or not. And in an emergency, those oft-forgotten utilities can quite literally be the difference between life and death.

“Individually, I would highly recommend that people get familiar with their own home and where their circuit breaker is for electric issues, where the water shut-off valve is,” Calvert said. “You should know it’s there and operational.”

Randy Crebs, West Linn’s emergency management and training specialist, agreed, and added that residents should worry less about power and more about water and gas. “(Power) is something that when it goes down, it’s going to stop completely in all homes,” Crebs said. “It’s gas and water we have to worry about. There are very easy tools to (purchase), or you can find the meters, look at the valves and look at your tools and find something that fits and have it accessible in case of emergency.”

Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt to also know where your master switch for power is located — particularly in the event of an electrical fire.

“If you’ve got an electrical fire, you want to be able to switch (power) off if you can get to it,” Crebs said.

In “mapping your home,” so to speak, you can also utilize the City of West Linn’s website.

“We have our mapping system online, and people can actually pull up the different layers and see where the water lines are in the streets,” Citizen Engagement Coordinator Lori Hall said. “And you should do it ahead of time, because after an emergency you might not have power. You can’t pull up the city website and find it.”

“All the utility info is on there,” Calvert added. “So there’s a lot of general data that may be helpful to people whether it’s an emergency or not — to be familiar with their neighborhood and what’s around them, what to be aware of.”

Securing the foundation

It’s one thing to know the layout of your home, but there are also ways to actively fortify a residence to better withstand earthquakes or other emergencies.

“You want to minimize the effects of injury by securing things as best as you can,” Crebs said. “When hanging pictures and things on the wall, have them secured to a stud. And when you have objects hanging on shelves, you can put some adhesive underneath so they don’t fall.”

He also recommended securing a stove’s exhaust pipe to the wall, and making sure water heaters are anchored by wall studs or screws.

“And then heavier furniture like entertainment centers, you can also secure that to studs using lag bolts,” Crebs said. The hardware for securing items are easy to find in home improvements stores, he added.

PAMPLIN MEDIA FILE PHOTO - Unless they've been retrofitted, older homes are typically not bolted to their foundation in a manner that would hold up in the case of an earthquake.

And, of course, there are also steps to take in securing the foundation of the home itself.

“If you can, you want to use anchor bolts every four to six feet to secure the home’s foundation,” Crebs said. “You can hire a home inspector to take a look at the home.”

A link outside

The first thing many disaster survivors do is call relatives both in and out of the emergency area. Of course, this proves exceedingly difficult as landlines fail and cellular networks are overloaded with calls.

“A good tip is to call out of state,” Hall said. “Like my family, we all know to call grandma in Missouri. You can call out of the area, but if you’re trying to call within, those calls get routed differently.”

The City itself has also partnered with Clackamas County to begin installing a fiber optic network between key buildings like the police station, West Linn High School, the library and city hall. Once fully operational, this network will provide another stable form of communication for the city in the case of an emergency.

A home with a plan

The American Red Cross recommends families have a plan for the household and a method of communication should disaster strike. It’s important that children know what to do should they be away from the house and away from their parents, as well as who’s in charge of what in a crisis.

“Before you do anything you need to have conversation about what would you do, how would you meet up, who’s role is to do what,” said Paula Paula Fasano Negele, American Red Cross Cascade Regions disaster services community outreach specialist. “There’s a good chance it won’t happen when everyone’s together. It’s important to have a meeting place and routine already in place.”

Negele says planning with neighbors is especially important. Knowing the type of supplies, equipment and skills others within close proximity have can be vital in a life-or-death situation. Because communication lines oftentimes go down in major earthquakes, having a neighborhood plan in addition to a family plan is beneficial.

“We tend to be society that is pretty alone. We do our own thing and don’t always connect with our neighbors,” she says. “Know who has medical skills in your neighborhood or on your block, who has a generator if power is still out after a few days. It might be a medical need, refrigeration needs that you could have in the event of a disaster. It might even be who has a chainsaw if a tree is blocking something.”

In addition to having a plan and disaster-proofing the house, American Red Cross recommends having some form of disaster preparedness kit at hand. Negele says a few days’ worth of food and water are the biggest necessities, and that families don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a bunch of supplies.

“You can generally get by with what you already have in the house,” she said.

Red Cross recommends keeping a kit that’s easy to carry should you need to evacuate as well as keeping it in an easily accessible area should a disaster occur. The organization also suggests keeping a sturdy pair of shoes, a flashlight and an extra pair of glasses (if worn) in a bag attached to the headboard of your bed, allowing you to walk across debris and see in the event of a major earthquake at night.

Different kind of business plan

As for businesses, the American Red Cross recommends a similar strategy to the one familes are encouraged to utilize. Making sure employees know who’s in charge of what in the event of a natural disaster is the most important thing, as well as understanding that coworkers will also be trying to get back to their families.

Like one’s household, knowing the dangerous elements that exist in any given workplace need to be understood by employees. Water heaters are especially dangerous in the event of a natural disaster and it’s important everyone knows where it is and to stay away from it.

Having supplies set aside and a protocol in place is always a good idea, too.

“It’s really very similar to how you prepare your family for a disaster,” Negele says of business preparation. “Communication is key in any situation. If everyone is on the same page everything goes a lot smoother.”