Preparing for the worst: What you need to know to deal with a disaster

‘Now is the time to meet your neighbors, not on day seven of a power outage,’ says Sophia Lopez.

Your preparation will be key to your survival when disaster strikes, said speaker Sophia Lopez at a King County Emergency Management workshop last week.

More than 30 South King County residents gathered at the Federal Way Library on July 25 to learn disaster skills and increase their preparedness to make it out of the catastrophic unexpectedness.

The program, offered by King County Office of Emergency Management and the King County Library system, equips individuals with survival tactics and also creates a culture shift to help individuals understand “how much we will need each other to make it through,” Lopez said.

Lopez is a public education and community engagement manager for King County Emergency Management and has experienced firsthand what it means to deal with disaster.

Growing up, she lived on Fort Benning army base in Georgia and in the early 2000s, a hurricane swept the area and knocked out power for seven days.

“If you’re prepared for the worst, you are prepared for anything,” she said.

Lopez outlined the various local hazards that Western Washington and the King County area faces: Human-caused hazards include terrorist activity, pandemic, accidental or intentional infrastructure failure and more. Local geological hazards include earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic activity; meteorological hazards encompass climate change, droughts or floods, and other severe weather.

The King County area is framed by five volcanoes, which puts residents in the area most at risk to be affected by ash in the wake of an active eruption, Lopez said. She urged people to get N95 masks — safety devices that block individuals from inhaling 95% of harmful substances and particles.

The easiest way to start preparing today is to make little adjustments to your daily routine while keeping in mind two key questions: Do you have what you personally need to survive, and who depends on you?

“Everyone’s plan will be different,” Lopez said, adding that people should make and practice those plans before needing them.

The amount of supplies you should collect is equivalent to as if you were going camping for two weeks. On any normal day, any person may need groceries, money, fuel, and the ability to communicate. When any form of disaster strikes, these needs will be stripped back to the basic necessities of food, water and shelter.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but you can start to take little steps:

• Start by putting away cash in small bills in case ATMs and card readers do not work. Lopez recommends $50 as a minimum, but said to be mindful of how many people may depend on you for your financial support.

• Keep emergency supplies kits at home, in your car and at work if you can, and tailor each to your needs. Some key items to include are a first aid kit, warm clothes, socks, small tools, personal hygiene items, flash lights, battery operated or hand-powered radios among other items.

• You should have one gallon of water per person, per day. This accounts for the need of hydration, washing hands, cleaning and cooking.

Don’t forget to include something fun, Lopez said, such as a pack of cards, a favorite toy, or even a favorite beverage.

“Don’t be ashamed if you have a bottle of wine in your kit — that’s OK,” she said with a smile as the crowd broke into laughter. “That’s normal. We all need to feel normal during a time of chaos and trauma and sadness.”

Develop a plan to navigate road closures and road inaccessibility by finding alternate routes — then plan an alternate for your back-up option.

• Make sure to fill up once you’re at half a tank of gas; not only does it save you money and panic, you will have the freedom to skip the lines at fuel pumps and head straight out of town when disaster strikes, if you have the safety and ability to do so.

For communications, Lopez urges people to memorize or write down the phone numbers in multiple places.

• If an emergency situation makes phone communication difficult, remember that sending a text message requires lower bandwidth and can be a more reliable option compared to phone calls.

• It’s also important to out-of-area contacts, such as in another city or state, to serve as a relay point for family communication.

Lopez reminded people not to hesitate to call 911, but also understand the priorities of first responders during a time of disaster panic. During a disaster it could be quite some time before you see a first responder or hear an update about the situation, which is where your local community becomes vital.

“Now is the time to meet your neighbors, not on day seven of a power outage.”

If the dire need arises, Lopez also explained how to create a make-shift bathroom by lining a gallon bucket with a large garbage bag, filling it with kitty litter and cutting up foam pool noodles to ensure everyone has their own personal toilet seat.

You can start your preparation right now by taking a few minutes to look around your house and identify what you could change to lessen the potential damage:

• Secure hanging pictures or figures on shelves and install safety brackets to bookshelves or other large and tall furniture items.

• Identify your water heater and learn how to turn it off.

• Know when to control your utilities with these tips: If you hear hissing, smell the scent of rotten eggs, or the dials go haywire.

“Don’t look at it as something you have to do all tonight,” she said. “Little steps, here and there, little adjustments to your routine, that’s how we create a culture of preparedness.”

Upcoming disaster history event

A free presentation about the history of disasters in Western Washington will be held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Federal Way Library (34200 1st Way S.).

Sponsored by the City of Federal Way Emergency Management, Historical Society of Federal Way, and King County Library System, the event features the history of disasters in Western Washington; how history has shaped the development of planning, response, and recovery efforts used today to prepare communities.

The event is free and open to all. For more information, contact Ray Gross at ray.gross@cityoffederalway.com or call 253-835-2712.

For additional resources, visit hazardready.org/seattle or the King County Emergency Management website.

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