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Council approves memorandum of understanding to provide gas to fuel generators at churches

The city of Newberg will continue forward with its plan to partner with local churches to provide the public with aid during a disaster.

The plan to partner with churches and other faith-based organizations began last fall when then-City Manager Joe Hannan began meeting with church officials with the understanding that most people in town live within a quarter of a mile of one of the dozens houses of worship in Newberg. At the time, Hannan also listed the fact that churches tend to have big spaces for people to gather should a disaster occur.

City staff and church members have met in the past to discuss this potential partnership, which led to a handful of emergency preparedness events, Yamhill County hosting an emergency response training series, the local Habitat for Humanity placing several emergency generators in local churches, and the city applying for grants to seismically improve its public safety emergency operations center.

The city has also been seeking to secure additional fuel tankers to transport gasoline to city generators during an emergency. The current capacity for the city is for transport a few hundred gallons, but Newberg hopes to be able to transport up to 1,000 gallons. The two tankers the city hopes to secure would also be available for state use, as items purchased with the grant are placed on the state's asset register.

On Monday, the City Council agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding for this service. Council documents state the 35 churches are willing to provide disaster assistance to city residents should the day come.

"The city recognizes that its personnel, equipment and funding is not designed to be the sole responder to public need in the event of a major event such as a Cascadia earthquake," the documents state. "To address the need for water during emergencies, the city has several small portable water filtration units. Staging emergency supplies and portable water filtration equipment at strategic locations throughout the city is the best model to provide for a broad outreach during a disaster."

Newberg Public Works Director Jay Harris said the city will provide training, while the churches and other organizations are financially responsible for supplies such as water filtration units, storage units and other things, such as a generator. He said in the future the churches may have other items, such as cooking and sanitation tools, but in the short term the goal is to be able to provide water to citizens in the event of a major event or disaster.

"The churches would be sited around the community," Harris said. "Hopefully it's no more than a mile walk to go there and get water to bring home."

Per the MOU, the city would work with the participating organizations for disaster preparedness training as well as provide materials and emergency supplies. The churches and groups participating would be responsible for financing their own activities related to emergency preparedness.

Newberg owns 17 emergency water filtration units, purchased over the past eight years using water rate funds. According to city documents, to effectively deploy a comprehensive, community-wide emergency water distribution network the city will need to purchase storage units, water bladders, hoses, pumps and water containers. The city received a $26,750 grant from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, which will offset a large portion of the cost to purchase the equipment. About $25,000 will be needed from water rate funds in the next several years to supplement the grand funding for additional items, such as generators and pumps.

It is part of the City Council's list of goals to implement an emergency preparedness response program.

Harris said he could see other organizations, such as George Fox University, being brought into this plan. During a disaster, he said GFU could have thousands of people around. He said the first church the city will work with is likely Zion Lutheran and the successes there will be replicated.

Going forward, he said there will need to be management conversations for this type of effort to ensure it remains sustainable. He said the goal is to have a nonprofit organization, such as Love INC, take over its management.

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