The time to prepare for a major disaster is before it happens

DAVID F. ASHTON - American Red Cross Cascades Region AmeriCorps associate Rachael Gernhart shows off one of their agency's Emergency Supplies starter Kit bags - which you can find, with more information, online at: Most folks will nod approval to the idea of being prepared for a natural or man-made major emergency. But, it turns out, not that many people really are prepared for a major disaster – such as "the big one" earthquake we'll have someday.

The Sellwood Moreland Improvement League's (SMILE) "Emergency Preparedness Committee" set out to help people learn how to survive a disaster, through a clinic and open house on January 28 at Sellwood's SMILE Station.

Set up inside the main meeting room of the neighborhood association were displays demonstrating emergency supplies and equipment, with knowledgeable people on hand to help visitors gain a better understanding of what "being prepared" actually will mean.

After three decades with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue as a lieutenant paramedic, SMILE Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Bob Burkholder was on hand to share his experience with members of the community.

"The most important thing that we hope people take away from this is 'neighbors helping neighbors' – that is, learning how to work together, bringing different skills together in a disaster scenario, to survive in the best way," Burkholder told THE BEE.

Individuals and families should be prepared to survive, on their own, for between 72 hours to two weeks, Burkholder observed. "But the absolute minimum is 72 hours. If it is a major event, realistically it'll probably be closer to ten days to two weeks for which people will need to be able to survive on their own."

After a major earthquake, Burkholder said residents should consider if they're going to stay home, or leave. "If you can stay in your own backyard, even if your home is partially damaged, it's probably the best thing you can do, because you have a lot of resources available. Even if you don't have water or electricity, you'll be able to camp in an area with which you're familiar, and you're better off than trying to go off and find a shelter elsewhere."

If you do have to leave, it's a good idea to pack a "prepared kit", Burkholder remarked. "If you keep that by the back door – or, as an apartment dweller, in a closet – you can grab it, and promptly leave and not turn back."

To learn more about emergency preparedness, see the SMILE webpage:

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