Op-Ed

Imagining ‘the Big One’ – Make this the year you prepare for resiliency

Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

More from the series


Preparing for resiliency after a great quake

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Editor’s note: Our series of fictional accounts that imagine what life in Whatcom County would be like after a great earthquake was funded by the Riverstyx Foundation. Read the full series here.

The most common remark I’ve heard while working on “Imagining ‘the Big One’ ” is “I just hope this doesn’t happen in my lifetime.”

Trust me, I also hope it doesn’t happen in my lifetime – but the reality is that it could. Odds are 1 in 3 that a 9.0 Cascadia megaquake happens in the next 50 years. Those are about the same odds of developing cancer. We see others in our lives get cancer and we take active steps to prevent what we can – we wear sunscreen, we exercise, we eat our vegetables. When it comes to talking about the earthquake, the “hope” expressed doesn’t often turn into a plan. Hope is not a strategy. We don’t take comparable preventative steps, even though the odds are about the same.

With all of the education and awareness out there about earthquakes, and all of the great groups working on preparedness and recruiting for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and the Volunteer Mobilization Center, we wanted to try and get through to people in another way. We wanted to bring to life the realities of life post-quake in Bellingham through a story, and sprinkle preparedness tips and important facts throughout.

Over the last four weeks we’ve gotten to know Bill and his dog Daisy, followed him through the neighborhoods of Fairhaven and Western Washington University, seen through his eyes the devastation that a quake like this will leave upon our geography, our homes and our community.

We have learned about some of the most important ways to prepare, and some of the innovative approaches as well. If you survive the quake, you will need shelter. You can take steps to make sure your home is a safe and ready as possible. You may be thinking you want to brush up on first-aid training and restock your kit.

Once you have shelter and first-aid, the next most important thing is water. Have at least 1 gallon per day per person, for at least three weeks if possible. Learning about water storage and sanitation methods is helpful. Having a good filter or rain barrels on hand would be smart. After water, food. And if the electricity is out, staying warm will also be important.

There are steps we can all take today to prepare, and what I have come to understand more than anything else is that it doesn’t matter if this quake happens in our lifetime or not – it’s not really about the event. It’s about making resiliency a part of your life, creating a habit of thinking ahead and knowing how to take care of yourself and others.

It’s about passing on these lessons and a way of life to the next generations who face increasing risks and ever-changing, complex world challenges. Learning how to be more self-reliant is not something you can do in one day, it is not one stop at a store to stock up on batteries and bottled water. It is a mindset that has the potential to save your life.

Thank you for reading along with us. As we conclude our series, we ask that you don’t let fear or overwhelm lull you into inaction. Make this the year you take the steps to prepare. Share the story with your family and your neighbors. Lead a map your neighborhood exercise. Read up on bellinghamearthquake.info. Take stock of what you have in your own home and what you need to get. It doesn’t need to be all at once, and it doesn’t need to be every exhaustive thing, but make it the year that you become fully aware and prepared to live in the beautiful, amazing, water-rich, caring earthquake-country Pacific Northwest.

Heather Flaherty is director of the Riverstyx Foundation. Reach her at heather@raptorgroup.co.

Stay alert: Sign up for Bellingham Herald news alerts by text message at bit.ly/2G8amIy; sign up for Whatcom Emergency Alerts and get the AlertSense My Alerts app for your mobile phone in the Apple Store or from Google Play.

Take action

Family and neighbors are our first line of response in an emergency. Use the map we’ve printed in the Feb. 25 newspaper, or download it from our website or from our partner agencies. It will assist you in talking to your neighbors and taking note of skills and concerns that will help us all be more resilient and survive in the aftermath of disaster.

We’ve created the map in four pages so you can print it on a home printer with 8.5 inch-by-11 inch paper. Record your neighborhood resources, your neighbors to the left, your neighbors to the right and consider skills and supplies you can share.

Here are the agencies who have partnered in this effort: Bellingham Public Schools, Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, City of Bellingham, Chuckanut Health Foundation, Lummi Nation, Opportunity Council, PeaceHealth, Ram Construction, Stratum Group, Sustainable Connections, Unity Care NW, Volunteer Mobilization Center, Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

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