PUBLISHED: 3:39 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Tips for emergency preparedness in Southeast Alaska
I used to make fun of my dad because of the barrels of rice and beans he'd hid away in our basement. I actually thought his army emergency rations were great to play "kitchen" with as a child. Looking back, I'm glad he was thinking about extreme situations because it was the last thing on my list. Now sorting through my over-stuffed pantry, I'm somewhat prepared for an emergency but not intentionally.

Living in Alaska means preparing and adapting for natural hazards that exist in our environment. Hazards include earthquakes, severe weather, tsunamis and seiche, flood and fire. National experts consider Juneau one of the largest municipal avalanche hazard areas in the country because of the combined threat from the Behrends and white paths that empty onto Thane Road, according to the City and Borough of Juneau. In the past century, avalanches have hit, damaged or destroyed at least 72 buildings within a 10-mile radius of downtown Juneau, they said.

"Juneau actually has one of the better programs in the state," said City's Emergency Programs Manager Mike Patterson.

More than just a plan, he said they actually exercise and train for emergencies.

He said three weeks ago, they conducted an exercise with the FBI, customs and even the hospital, which prepared them for the most recent crisis in Juneau.

On May 14, the cruise ship Empress of the North hit rocks outside of Icy Strait Point. Guests were transferred to Coast Guard cutters and commercial vessel to await the arrival of Columbia ferry. Transported back to Juneau, 281 guests were fed at Centennial Hall and cared for by American Red Cross Volunteers.

"That particular plan has been taken and used down South and the lower 48," said Patterson.

Juneau follows an emergency management plan, consisting of four phases including: preparedness--establishing response procedures and conducting training and exercises; mitigation--activities that reduce disaster losses; response--actual activities undertaken by emergency responders and recovery--planned community activities including rebuilding and re-establishing services.

He's been working on the Southeast Alaska Metropolitan Medical Response System, a forward movement plan. The recommendation is for the purchase and delivery of new comprehensive shelter systems to be utilized throughout Southeast Alaska for emergency incident disaster response, according to City. The pre-staged response shelter systems will be placed in Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Haines/Skagway, Petersburg/Wrangell and Klawock for use anywhere in Southeast Alaska.

"It's not in its infancy but it's not full developed," Patterson said. They're in the process of buying equipment. Every community is on the Southeast Alaska Steering Committee are able to input how money is used and what decisions are made.

"Not only do we get people from other communities to see what we're doing, we get feedback from them," he said.

He said their ultimate goal is to work together as teams.

"We recognize we're sheltered here, that's the reason we take the approach to be self-sufficient," Patterson said.

"We have enough supplies in town to facilitate 500 people. Within a couple days, I can quadruple that," said Patterson.

He points out that Seattle is our lifeline, and if the port is taken out, Southeast Alaska is crippled.

While the City is prepared with an emergency plan, residents need to prepare themselves at home as well.

Southeast service center director Shad Engkilterra, of American Red Cross said residents should follow three steps. First, work with your family to create a disaster plan, decide how you will react, where family member should meet and what items you might need. Also, set up an out of state contact.

Second, build an emergency kit consisting of food and water for seven to 10 days and include entertainment material for sanity purposes. Plus, don't forget a can opener.

"The most important thing people should do is just start. Don't let that big number stop you from preparing, break it down into steps. If you're only prepared for only three days it's better than nothing," said Engkilterra.

He recommends using a suitcase as a kit holder or anything with wheels that's portable. Also, teach children to prepare their own individual kits, they learn preparedness as well as taking control in serious situations.

Third, get trained in CPR, first aid and emergency preparedness. The Red Cross offers classes a few times a year.

CBJ also recommends learning to shut off power, gas and water to your home; ensure pets will be cared for in a disaster (include pet food in your kit) and establishing a network of friends and neighbors who are willing to work together in a disaster.

Alaska Electric Light and Power Company have a solid plan in case of emergency.

"We turn the office building into a support center for staff," said Gayle Wood, of AEL&P. The intent is for staff to go out (on the job) and not worry because their families are taken care of, she said.

They maintain supplies to feed their crew as well as crews from outside areas.

They handle community communication with the media, and have a piece of equipment that's essentially becomes a loud speaker to announce events or status in emergency situations through neighborhoods, Wood describes.

"It good for people to think in advance," she said.

Like players on a team, the Coastguard, State, cruise line agencies, military to the Federal government and customs work together. If something comes up, you know who to call, Patterson said.

"The whole key is not just one person doing this, it's a group partnership," he said.

Being informed and aware of emergency preparedness makes a difference in people's lives. Initially, it's not a suggestion Southeast Alaskans buy out all the canned goods, simply take precautionary steps today to be prepared for tomorrow.

For more information on emergency preparedness: