Surviving disasters depends on being prepared

SNOQUALMIE - When it comes to disasters, it's best to follow the Boy Scouts' motto: Be prepared.

Snoqualmie residents were reminded of that on Thursday, April 18, when the city took part in a statewide earthquake drill. The drill lasted from 9:45-10 a.m., with the Snoqualmie Department of Public Safety-Fire Division announcing the drill with three short blasts of its horn. A fourth blast signaled the drill's end.

Those participating in the drill, including local schools, were asked to behave as though an actual earthquake was occurring and "drop, cover and hold."

The statewide drill coincided with Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher proclaiming April as Disaster Preparedness Month in a city that has seen its fair share of calamities. Water marks can still be observed on buildings that survived three major floods in the 1990s, and people are still talking about where they were when the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually Earthquake rumbled through the Puget Sound.

"It is so important for our citizens to be prepared to take care of themselves for at least 72 hours [following a disaster]," said Snoqualmie City Clerk Jodi Warren.

She knows exactly where she was when last year's earthquake struck: at a workshop with other public information officers from throughout the region in Des Moines. Somewhat ironically, those officials charged with distributing information during emergencies found their 800-megahertz radios didn't work and their cellular phones were useless as communications lines were jammed.

The city is trying to prevent that from happening again. Most city staff members have been certified in operating a ham radio in the event the 800-megahertz network goes out, and they regularly take part in drills to respond to mock disasters.

Following the procedures outlined in the city's emergency operations plan, staff members converge at the Snoqualmie Department of Public Safety-Police Division building, inside of which is the city's emergency operations center.

Warren said despite the initial communications blackout that happened after the Nisqually Earthquake, the city was able to swiftly check its roads, bridges, water lines and other infrastructure and issue a boil-water notice about three hours after the temblor.

"It made me very proud when we had our earthquake to be part of such a professional organization," she said.

Disaster preparedness is becoming increasingly important in school settings. School Resource Officer Paul Graham is working with Mount Si High School and Snoqualmie Middle School to update their emergency preparedness plans.

He said such plans must be flexible to respond to any number of emergencies, such as flooding, earthquakes and even school shootings.

"There's no such thing as a done product," he said. "It's an ongoing, evolving effort."

One approach he and the Snoqualmie Valley School District are taking is to divide school administrators, faculty, staff and students into teams that would be responsible for such things as first aid, food and finding shelter in light of a disaster.

Not only does that help the schools, Graham said, it helps students cope during a difficult situation.

"If the students know what's going to be expected ... some of that fear will go away," he said.

Since Snoqualmie has witnessed previous floods and earthquakes, there's the possibility that some people might become complacent to future disasters. Warren hopes that won't happen.

"[The city's] gone through these things before, but we still need to remind our citizens we could have a disaster moments from now, right now, or we might not have one for another five years.

"But survival is going to be based on being prepared," she added.

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