Water, ice, and fuel for Hurricane Laura survivors in Grand Lake, La., on Sept. 8, 2020. (Daniel Rojas/Federal Emergency Management Agency)

Community Preparedness Starts with Your Family

Disaster preparedness can be the difference between life and death. Running a Facebook Community group for anyone who knows what disaster preparedness means can be the key to keeping your community informed – and alive – when a disaster strikes.

The first thing I tell my community is regardless what disaster strikes, have a plan and make sure your entire family knows that plan. Within that plan, everyone should know where to meet, and have an out-of-state contact so when someone is missing everyone knows to call that contact to check in.

Try out some disaster drills. Take the family on a picnic and go down some roads that could be possible evacuation routes. Some roads have gates and you want to know before disaster strikes which roads may be blocked off, and this is a good time to get the kids involved. Make this trip a picnic at a spot the entire family can enjoy while at the same time learning where to go at a higher elevation should the need arise.

In my community there are five dams, so finding that safe evacuation route is important. We also have two volcanoes, landslide threats, flooding, and potential for an intense seismic event with the Cascadia Subduction Zone here in the Pacific Northwest – so again, to me, having that plan is important.

What I also encourage is having that briefcase ready to grab that has all the important documents. Many people don’t remember the insurance paperwork, titles to vehicles, VA paperwork if you are a veteran or Social Security documentation if you are in SSI or SSD. I have a briefcase with all this information I can just grab and go. I also encourage taking pictures of high-value items on a memory card you can access in any computer for when claims need to be filed, or in the event if a theft.

Finally, that go-bag: Do you stay in the house or do you head for the hills? We have power outages here in my community during winter storms that can last up to a week or longer and if the Army taught me one thing it is always to have a Plan A, B, C, and D and if those plans don’t work, you have backups for backups. When storms hit, we settle in. Power goes out, we had for a trailer that still has heat. We have a barbecue grill we can cook on, water stored in containers for drinking and cooking, and we make it a fun event. Many folks forget that on a well there is no power to the pump, so you will be out of water and this hinders your sanitation as well.

When it comes to the evacuation, we make it a point of always maintaining at a minimum a half a tank of gas in the vehicle as you never know when you may have to go farther to get to your destination when an event happens. I also suggest maintaining at least a week’s supply of food and water for your family as most disasters will take longer than three days for rescue to get to your community. I have a 72-hour pack I take with me everywhere, reminiscent of both my Army and my search-and-rescue days, and it carries enough for myself and one other for up to three days but longer if necessary.

First aid is another area many forget, but as a former combat medic my kit is above and beyond and stays in my truck. I do not carry more than what my civilian skill legally will allow. In the Army I stuck IVs, chest tubes, and whatever else needed to be done to keep a soldier alive, things I cannot do now without getting in legal trouble, so I do not carry those supplies. I do encourage anyone to at least learn basic first aid and CPR and learn how to take basic vital signs. You can pick up a basic blood pressure cuff and stethoscope in many medical supply stores and learn how to use them. Breathing, blood loss, and shock are the three main killers but knowing CPR, how to stop bleeding, and shock signs and symptoms and treatment are fundamental to learn and will benefit your family and community.

Lastly, Washington state has a program called Map Your Neighborhood. It is a great program for any community and helps in meeting your neighbors, knowing their skills, and identifying the elderly and disabled as the first ones you need to check on. You can find more information on this program on the internet and see about applying this to your community.

In the end, it is your family and your community who will be there to help you through a crisis event, and knowing what the threats are in your state and community will help you in staying prepared and knowing how to respond, which is a mitigation to the threat. Stay safe out there and keep your communities safe.

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Eric Cooper served in the Army for 19 ½ years as both a Combat Medic and truck mechanic. In that time, he was also the Safety NCO for multiple units in which he was OSHA certified to inspect maintenance facilities and was the Environmental NCO as well so was HAZMAT certified as a Technician. His training included Counterterrorism, Human Trafficking Awareness, SAEDA, and many other certifications related to his duties. His Combat tours included: Operation Positive Force, Doha, Kuwait in 1991, Somalia, 1993 Balad, Iraq, 2004-2005, Tal Afar, Iraq 2005-2006 In 2008, he was sent to the Warrior Transition Battalion as the Battalion he was in was preparing to return to Iraq for a 3rd tour and he was preparing to retire. In that time Eric went on to the Madigan Army Hospital Safety Office and conducted Joint Commission preparatory inspections of the clinics within the hospital. He was also the Military Liaison for the Safety Office, Pierce County Emergency Management, and the hospital EOC. The Army decided to medically retire Eric and he was retired in 2010. He moved to a small mountain community in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State and as was routine for him, immediately started assessing threats in the community and adding mitigations. He started a Community group on Facebook for the community to keep a pulse on emergency situations and educate on disaster preparedness, threats and issues involved in the community which currently has 6,000 members. In 2015, using his GI Bill he pursued a degree in Homeland Security and in December of 2019 completed his BA. December of 2019 he also started a plan for the East County Consulting agency which is in infancy but will include a Citizen Patrol, SAR, and general Hazard Mitigation consulting. Eric is married, has two kids ages 8 and 9 who are in online schooling due to Covid, and enjoys being involved in the public safety field.

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