'We each can do something to prepare for the future, and now is the time to start.'

Dennis RichardsonMy parents were adults during the Great Depression. To them, "Be Prepared" was more than a scout motto — it was a way of life. As a result of those lasting lessons on prudent living, and having a home 20 miles from the city, my wife Cathy and I taught our children to grow vegetables in a raised-bed garden, dehydrate and can fruits and vegetables, grind wheat, and bake bread. I always reminded the kids, "When a crisis arises, the time for preparation has past."

Now my children are grown, and they have children of their own. Yet the principles of self-reliance are timeless and should be remembered and practiced by families, communities, and our state.

Starting with the emergency preparation at the state level, we should remember the threat of a catastrophic (magnitude 9.0) earthquake off Oregon's coast is real. It is referred to as the "Cascadia event," and federal and state agencies have been talking about it for years.

Oregon has an Office of Emergency Management (OEM) that is located in the Oregon Military Department. OEM is to lead statewide efforts to develop and enhance preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Thus, OEM's mission is to protect the lives, property, and environment of the whole community – state and local. Regardless of the cause, OEM is charged with coordinating Oregon's emergency management efforts.

To determine the condition of Oregon's preparedness for natural or manmade disasters, a secretary of state audit was released Thursday, Jan. 25. Its findings are clear from the audit report's title: "The State Must Do More to Prepare Oregon for a Catastrophic Disaster."

Unfortunately, our auditors found that Oregon — its government and its communities — are ill-prepared to respond to a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, or even to respond to recurring disasters such as wildfires and flooding. The audit found that state and local governments are not meeting key standards for being prepared to respond to such events.

Specifically, the audit found a number of deficiencies that weaken our state's preparedness for dealing with a catastrophic event, including the following:

Oregon does not meet key emergency management program standards. These national baseline standards are a tool to strengthen preparedness and response, demonstrate accountability, and identify resource needs.

Planning efforts across all levels of Oregon's emergency management system are lacking. Critical continuity plans that ensure functional government services in the wake of a disaster are either missing or incomplete. Additionally, insufficient staff resources put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal grant funding for future disasters.

Current statewide staffing is inadequate to reduce Oregon's vulnerability to disasters. OEM in particular is understaffed, despite repeated budget requests to the Legislature. This inhibits the agency's capacity to coordinate emergency management efforts in the state.

More accountability is needed to ensure progress on preparedness goals and projects, and to enhance public awareness.

The audit's recommendations are useful, but they may take months or even years to implement. Even if it is fully implemented, the reality is that in a disaster on the scale of a Cascadia event, bridges will collapse, roads will be impassable, power and communications towers will topple, and government resources may not be available for days, weeks or even longer.

To be prepared for such an event, communities, families, and individuals should take action now.

Communities of all sizes are made up of individuals and families, so here are suggestions on what individuals and families can do now to be prepared for a major disaster.

• Prepare for sudden evacuation with an emergency 72-hour kit. You and those you care about should have a backpack, athletic bag, or even a plastic trash bag containing an "emergency 72-hour kit." To assist in knowing what to put in your emergency 72-hour kit, check out the recommendations from the American Red Cross.

• Prepare your home with a two-week supply. There may come a time when access to groceries or transportation might not be available. For that situation, a two-week supply of food, water and other necessities is highly recommended. FEMA has valuable information on preparing your home for a two-week period of self-sufficiency. In addition, OEM has its own "2-Week Ready" web resources.

• Become a trained volunteer for your community. When a major disaster occurs, your community will need those who are trained in how to respond. To be ready to help, consider joining your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The Citizen Corps is an another opportunity to be a valuable and well-trained volunteer for your community. The Red Cross offers online and classroom training for volunteers who want to be ready to assist when a major disaster occurs.

Each of us would be wise to take immediate action to improve our individual, family, and community's ability to respond to major natural or man-made disasters. We each can do something to prepare for the future, and now is the time to start.

Dennis Richardson is Oregon's secretary of state.

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