Get Ready for the Next Disaster

Gather the supplies needed to survive on your own for at least two weeks

Patence Winningham
Lane County Emergency Program Coordinator Patence Winningham wants everyone to be prepared for a major emergency by having a complete emergency kit accessible.

By Craig Reed

Are you prepared? Do you have a plan? Patence Winningham has been asking those questions for years, previously as the emergency program coordinator for the city of Eugene and more recently as the Lane County emergency program manager.

She’s been in the latter position since mid-February and has attended numerous meetings and events throughout the county, informing people about how to prepare and plan for emergency situations. Those include catastrophic storms, wildfires and earthquakes resulting in extended power and communication outages, road blockages, broken bridges and water and fuel shortages.

“I like the idea of building a more resilient community,” Patence says. “I’ve been doing public presentations, going to rural areas and talking to groups that are establishing emergency planning teams. It’s important to establish caches of food, to identify warming centers or shelters for displaced people, to organize what skills and resources are available. Places like McKenzie Bridge and Oakridge could be shut off during an event, and they need a plan in such a situation.”

The potential disaster that’s gotten the most attention in recent decades is the Cascadia earthquake that would happen in the Pacific Ocean and would impact the West Coast.

“It’s not if, it is when,” Patence says of that earthquake eventually happening. “You better have a plan when it does. That’s where we need to start.”

Zechariah English, the energy services representative at Lane Electric Cooperative, has been making a similar pitch to the co-op’s members when attending different events. He says the snow event that occurred earlier this year and impacted several rural communities was an eye opener for many.

“It was sort of a slap in the face—a reality check,” he says. “People saw what really happens when they lose power and they’re stranded.

“We can all remember times of crisis when you wished you were more prepared—you wished you had a flashlight, you wished you had jumper cables. It’s important to be prepared, to have a plan and to know what to do in case of an emergency.”

Damaged power pole and lines
Damage from the February snowstorm was a wake-up call for many who got a taste of life without power.

Patence agrees the snowstorm showed that most people and most areas are not prepared for a Cascadia event. She says people should be prepared so they can be part of a solution, not part of a problem.

“Whether it’s snow, floods, wildfires, the little incidents will test us and should prepare us for the bigger event like Cascadia,” she says. “With that event, we’re not going to have water, we’re not going to have sewer, we’re not going to have fuel.”

People should also not expect immediate help because first responders will have to deal with their own individual and family issues before being available to provide any services.

Patence says when she makes presentations, 50 or more people usually attend. But she doesn’t know how many actually continue to prepare or begin preparations.

She says those preparations for a family should start with a plan. Then an emergency kit should be assembled. It should include items such as food that has an extended shelf life, medical supplies, solar lantern, whistle, emergency radio that is battery powered or solar powered, fire starter, a life straw and a headlight.

Those kits can be assembled for under $100, according to Patence. She suggests that birthday and Christmas gifts can include items for the kits, especially for children.

“It’s important to build a culture of preparedness, starting with children,” she says. “Let them know the importance of being aware. Making it important for you makes it important for them.”

Zechariah says the standard message is to have two weeks of emergency goods, but he has taken that to four weeks for his family. He explains that the supplies can be rotated and the older ones used in daily life so nothing is outdated or wasted.

Zechariah encourages people to know their neighbors so they can help each other, especially if there are those who are disabled or elderly.

“My feeling is more people are becoming aware. They’re starting to take steps, but there is a long way to go,” he says. “People get complacent when things are running smooth because they have other day-to-day problems. But it is best to keep this in the back of your mind so you can continue to be prepared.”

Patence says Eugene and Springfield have taken steps and are moving in the right direction to deal with a catastrophe. It’s the rural, more remote communities that will have to survive on their own longer.

Since the snowstorm, there have been numerous inquiries about generators and how to have them ready to go in case of an emergency. An electrician can hook up a generator to a house panel, a Generlink can be installed by Lane Electric free of charge or an automatic transfer switch to a sub-panel can be installed. The key to using a generator for power is having enough fuel on hand to run the generator.

“Prepare yourself so you can be an active citizen in your neighborhood when a disaster hits rather than a victim,” Patence says. “Be prepared and be a survivor, or maybe be a first responder and help somebody else.”