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PUBLISHED: 12:02 PM on Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Is Alaska prepared for a catastrophic disaster?

  by Craig E. Campbell
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left behind devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, and has sparked questions as to how prepared Alaska is for a catastrophic disaster. There are two key, and equally important, factors when talking about Alaska's preparedness.

The first factor is how Alaska prepares for disasters. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which falls under the State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, is responsible for disaster preparedness. DHS&EM utilizes an "all hazards" preparedness approach, meaning they don't concentrate on just earthquakes, tsunamis, or other natural disasters. They also plan for potential man-made disasters or terrorist attacks as well.

DHS&EM works with local emergency managers and it also works with the State Emergency Response Commission to ensure state, federal, and local emergency planning and preparedness guidelines are established, integrated and mutually supporting. When a local community declares a disaster in response to an event, the State holds a Disaster Policy Cabinet meeting. The DPC is comprised of State Department Commissioners who make a recommendation to Gov. Murkowski in response to emergencies, who then considers the recommendation and decides the direction for the State.

Alaska also participates in the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Through EMAC, states can request or provide assistance to other states when their resources are depleted in times of disaster. Alaska is also part of the Western Region EMAC which includes the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada. There are also National Guard assistance compacts utilizing EMAC to coordinate National Guard resources.

Earlier this year, FEMA and Alaska worked together to deploy a Pre-Positioned Disaster Supplies container in Anchorage that has enough supplies to shelter and sustain five hundred disaster victims. DHS&EM also partners with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service to bring the TsunamiReady program to Alaska. The Alaskan communities of Seward, Sitka and Homer, are TsunamiReady. DHS&EM continues to coordinate with other coastal communities to ensure their ability to participate in this important preparedness program.

The second factor that goes into Alaska's disaster preparedness lies with every single citizen of the Last Frontier. There are two preparedness steps everyone should take-craft a family disaster plan and assemble a disaster supply kit.

A family disaster plan lays out what you and your family will do during and after a disaster. It needs to identify the potential hazards in your community. You can get this information from your local emergency manager or government office.

You need an out-of-state contact that can act as a central gathering point for family information. It's important that this person be out-of-state because local phone lines and cell phone towers could be knocked out while long distance lines may still be functioning.

You need to identify a meeting place in case you can't get into your neighborhood after a disaster.

And you need to exercise your family disaster plan periodically to make sure it works!

Everyone should also have a disaster supply kit that includes enough supplies for each family member for up to seven days. In a major disaster or catastrophe, assistance could take up to seven days to reach you.

This kit should include water, food, medications, first aid supplies, all important documents, and a radio and flashlight with extra batteries.

You need to store your supply kit in a place that everyone in the family can get to.

You may find more information on how you can be prepared at www.state.ak.us and clicking on the "emergency preparedness" link, or call 907-428-7052. Remember...being prepared is everyone's job.

Major General Campbell is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Miliary and Veterans Affairs.


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