Disaster preparedness, like annual doctor visits, often gets pushed aside due to busy schedules and other life priorities. Potential tragedies like the recent Japan earthquake and tsunami are rationalized as "disasters that happen in other countries or states." However, Northwesterners can't wish away geology. Denial or "we have an extra flashlight" falls short when the big one strikes and basic infrastructure ---- including communication --- takes a hit.
The Mount Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross is working with other Puget Sound chapters and community partners to launch the Safe in the Sound preparedness campaign. Safe in the Sound is a three-year initiative to inspire action, provide innovative and accessible preparedness training (targeting the most vulnerable populations) and build sustainable preparedness networks. The takeaway is to prepare, not scare.
With the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as a backdrop, the Red Cross emphasizes that Washington is second only to California for risk of earthquake-related damage to basic infrastructure. A growing Puget Sound region that supports 4.5 million residents is especially vulnerable, with the Seattle area placing fifth among areas nationwide likely to absorb a massive hit soon. Nevertheless, only 50 percent of local households have disaster kits (the extra flashlight doesn't count) and less than 30 percent know how to corral help when evacuating.
The Mount Baker Chapter of the Red Cross underlines that in a major disaster, neighbors are the first responders. Currently, the Mount Baker Chapter responds to a disaster every week. Scale that a thousand fold with a subduction quake, coupled with transportation, phone and internet disruptions. It won't be pretty, and restoring services will take a long, long time.
Safe in the Sound extends to all Puget Sound communities from Tacoma to Blaine. The mission is ambitious but manageable: to build capacity to "withstand, quickly adapt to and successfully recover from disasters and emergencies." In addition to a media blitz and dedicated website (safeinthesound.org) the campaign is pushing training, including online courses on its website, free in-person Be Red Cross Ready preparedness workshops, as well as CPR and first aid classes. Then come the basics: families should practice a home-evacuation plan, establish an out-of-area contact, and build or purchase a disaster kit. These practices are important for everyone but especially relevant for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, low-income families and people with special needs. The end goal of the three-year campaign: to give one member of every household the knowledge, training and skills to respond to a disaster -- one million people prepared.
Safe in the Sound also targets businesses and schools. Following a natural or man-made disaster, 15 to 40 percent of all businesses fail. The Red Cross Ready Rating Program is a free, web-based program designed to help businesses, organizations and schools take simple, measurable steps to become better prepared for emergencies. Participants complete an online self assessment (readyrating.org ) of their current readiness level and receive immediate customized feedback with tips to improve preparedness. Preparing ahead of time helps to minimize losses during an emergency ... be those financial losses or loss of lives.
Safe in the Sound endeavors to make disaster preparedness easy and manageable for individuals, families, businesses and schools. Eighty-two percent of Americans agree "if someone could make it easy for me to be prepared, I'd do it." Whether you call the chapter to schedule a free preparedness workshop for your organization or pick up materials to help you build a disaster kit for your home, your car, and your workplace ... everyone can take steps to help our community be safer and more resilient during an emergency. The local Red Cross staff and volunteers are working hard to make Safe in the Sound a big success ... the rest is up to each of us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stacy Rice is executive director of the American Red Cross Mount Baker Chapter. For information about Safe in the Sound, go online to safeinthesound.org or follow @RedCrossSITS on Twitter and like facebook.com/RedCrossSafeinthesound for news updates and crucial safety information.