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Neighborhood teams train to be ready if disaster strikes, whether its natural or man-made.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JESSIE DARLAND - NET trainees use the buddy system when learning to put out a gas fire. This was part of their final volunteer training on March 31 where they also practiced search and rescue exercises, triage, and learned how to shut off utilities in homes.Retiree Jim Keiter, who recently moved to a downtown Portland apartment tower, was dismayed to learn his new complex hadn't developed a plan for responding to a major earthquake.

So Keiter took it upon himself to help his new neighbors get prepared, by joining a Neighborhood Emergency Team program.

Often called NETs, the teams consist of community members who volunteer to get trained by emergency professionals on what to do during a disaster in their neighborhood. Trained volunteers then share what they learn with neighbors, and agree to take a leadership role during disasters.

"I'm just getting to know people, but it's a complicated neighborhood when your neighbors are vertical," Keiter said.

Many Portlanders are searching for ways to be more prepared as they keep hearing buzz about "The Big One" in local and national news. That's the grim possibility of a 9.0 magnitude quake stemming from the Cascadia Subduction Zone under the ocean off the Oregon Coast.

Some folks are stocking their homes with water and canned food. Others are searching for ways to help the broader community by learning about emergency assistance.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JESSIE DARLAND - Jim Keiter and Suzanne Griffonwyd work with other NET volunteers to learn 'cribbing' where levers are used to move heavy objects off a dummy.

Overcoming doom and gloom

For residents worried about their safety and the safety of those around them, the city of Portland offers training to become part of a NET. The groups are organized by neighborhood associations, and are responsible for coming up with their own emergency plans. In the event of a disaster, NETs will self-deploy, meaning they'll meet up and carry out their prepared emergency plan, in 24 to 48 hours if they haven't already been instructed to by the city.

According to Da'Von Angel-Wilson, NET program specialist, one of the best things people can do for emergency preparedness is getting to know their neighbors.

"It's something that seems very trivial, but it's something that most people don't know," Angel-Wilson said.

Knowing your neighbors can be helpful if you see two neighbors fleeing their home during a fire but you know four people live there, or if you need someone to keep an eye on your 8-year-old while you shut off your utilities and make calls to family.

Family is one big reason Suzanne Griffonwyd decided to join the NET program. She lives in Northeast Portland with her 3-year-old son, but works downtown as a bookseller. She's working on a map of the best ways to get back to him if the ground starts shaking while she's at work. Griffonwyd also has a chronic illness that makes her health unreliable, so she already needs to be more prepared on a day-to-day basis than others.

"I'm really aware that I'm going to be vulnerable and my family is going to be vulnerable in an emergency like that, so I want to be as prepared as I can," Griffonwyd said. She lives in a brick fourplex built shortly after World War II, and realizes it may not hold up in a seismic event. Besides NET training and making a map, she's stocked her closet with water and gear and plans to set up camp in the backyard.

Feeling empowered

Becoming a NET volunteer requires about 30 hours of basic training over three Saturdays, plus a final four-hour session with hands-on activities.

NETs are trained to be self-sufficient for two weeks during emergencies, offer emergency assistance to those close to them, work with a team in their area to save lives and mitigate damage, and direct others who want to help during disasters but may not be trained. Another important part of their job is keeping people out of hazardous areas so emergency professionals can get their work done, while keeping people safe.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JESSIE DARLAND - Two NET trainees approach a chemical fire and practice using extinguishers. The trainees were shown how water doesn't work on chemical fires, and took turns using foam to put out the flames.

"Doing this is really empowering," said Glenn Devitt, program and information specialist at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.

On Saturday, March 31, one group of NETs completed their final training. Adults of all ages and backgrounds joined together to learn practical skills such as search and rescue and injury care. Clad in knee pads, helmets and

neon-orange vests, trainees stood eager to learn about how to shut off utilities the right way. Between some old cars and a garage full of fire trucks at the Portland Fire and Rescue Training Center, one group worked to free a dummy from under a concrete block, while others practiced spraying foam over a chemical fire with heavy-duty extinguishers.

Brett Borders, who completed his training that day, decided to join the NET program because of a college journalism project 25 years ago, when the public was first starting to hear about the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault. Now a marketing consultant living on Northwest 23rd Avenue, he said ever since his project he's been a bit hyper-aware of the possibility of an earthquake.

"Knowing that we're living on the Northwest Portland fault line, I wanted be more prepared," Borders said.

While many people join the NET program for peace of mind and preparedness during a big disaster, it's also useful for smaller everyday things like putting out fires, helping with downed power lines, or first aid. According to Devitt, there's about 1,700 NET volunteers in Portland, with a waiting list double that.

"People naturally want to help, and we recognize that and the city has put a lot into training these people to help correctly," Angel-Wilson said.

Find out more

Portlanders can be more prepared for an earthquake by taking advantage of educational resources before disaster strikes, especially since phone and internet services could be unavailable for a while.

• Portland's Neighborhood Emergency Team program: www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/index.cfm?&c=31667

• Resources for earthquake preparedness: www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/54418

• An earthquake survival guide:

www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/article/504516

Other tips

Here are some oft-recommended suggestions:

• Households and families should make a communication plan. This can include a meeting spot in case telephone lines are down.

• Plan so you don't need to drive very far. There could be many roads closed or clogged with emergency traffic, making it chaotic to drive.

• Stockpile food and water, plus anything else (like prescriptions) that households may need to sustain themselves for at least a week.

• Secure items around homes or offices that could easily fall and break (or hit you on the head). Anchoring things like bookshelves to wall studs could save a life.

• It's also recommended to bolt down houses if they aren't already. Most Portland homes were built before seismic codes were put in place in 1978, and likely aren't bolted to their foundations.

• For those who want to know what items to get to be prepared, the Bureau of Emergency Management has a 24-week checklist, so people can work on getting prepared bit by bit — making it easier for busy schedules and tight budgets: www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/article/678731

• The main tips for safety are to get low to the ground, cover your head and get away from tall objects that could fall. For the most part, though, try to stay where you are, and grab on to anything sturdy until the shaking stops.

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