Portland's Neighborhood Emergency Teams are made up of 1,800 citizens trained in disaster response who operate on the premise that while you cannot control when a crisis strikes, you can control your own activities in the aftermath.
Portland Fire and Rescue and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management train volunteers who are willing to step up when disaster strikes and take responsibility for saving lives and property until professional first responders arrive.
Responding to the major earthquake that some say is inevitable is obviously a big part of what volunteers are trained to do. But there's also training in helping out in the event of a severe winter storm or flooding.
To discuss what it's like be a NET volunteer, the Connection contacted Bill Hasan, team leader for the NET team in Hillsdale. Hillsdale NET has been around for 25 years and currently has 51 members, 20 of whom can be counted on to attend meetings and events. Hasan got into NET through ham radio.
"A number of years ago my daughter sent me a link to a website on how to become a ham radio operator to help hospitals with communications in an emergency. I'm legally blind and my vision continues to deteriorate. My daughter knew I was trying to find other hobbies I could do even with low or no vision. So I got my amateur radio license. I linked up with the Hillsdale NET and went from there," Hasan wrote in an e mail to the Connection.
Hasan explained that he found the process of becoming certified for Hillsdale NET was somewhat enjoyable.
"To be a member of the Hillsdale NET team, you first need to be NET certified (although anyone can attend the meetings). To get your training, you need to sign up at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Services website: www.portlndoregon.gov/pbem/58587 and attend 30 hours of classes," he said. "These are usually scheduled over the course of three Saturdays. The classes cover things like first aid, triage, radio use and emergency response protocol. The classes are fun and I've found them to be very useful."
"Once you are a certified NET volunteer, you need to be willing to put in 12 hours of service per year. Team members are expected to have a 'Go' kit packed and ready for an activation. When an emergency occurs and you are activated, you should first check your own home and make sure your family is safe and secure. If so, then you are expected to follow through with your training and help as needed. Our essential mission is to do the most good for the greatest number of people in the least amount of time."
As for The Big One?
"I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast," Hasan said. "My house was about 100 feet from the bay and less than 5 feet in elevation. I sure didn't worry about it back then and nobody was talking about subduction zones. Now, 50 years later, I think about it a lot.There was recently a 7.0 earthquake in Alaska that caused lots of damage but no deaths. I was trying to compare that with what might happen here if we were to have a 9.0 quake. It's hard to compare since a 9.0 earthquake is more than a thousand times more powerful. A healthy amount of fear may help motivate people into being better prepared. For example, everyone should stockpile 1 gallon of water per person per day for a minimum of two weeks."
Hasan says the members of the Hillsdale NET team are very aware of what they would be dealing with in the case of a major earthquake.
"In the event of a 9.2 earthquake, one Hillsdale concern is the stability of the homes on the hills, especially in the winter when the soil is more saturated with moisture," he said. "We could have many slides with the potential to destroy overpasses and make our roads impassable. A major earthquake could also hamper cellular communications and disrupt both water supplies and our sewers. We have about 11 schools, kindergartens and preschools in our area. If the earthquake happens during school hours there will be many kids stranded as their parents try to get them which could take days. We are working with these schools to understand their emergency plans."
The density of Hillsdale could also cause problems.
"Hillsdale encompasses only 2 square miles but has 3,400 households with 7,500 residents," Hasan said. "The actual number of people needing help will vary depending on what time an event occurs and how severe the disaster is, but the bottom line is that we only have a small number of certified NET volunteers to help Hillsdale recover."
Hasan says in case of a major disaster there won't be enough NET-certified volunteers but his team is ready to work with non-NET certified volunteers who show up at DeWitt Park across the street from the Hillsdale Library.
Hasan says he has lost most of his peripheral vision, uses a white cane and recently teamed up with Rodrigo from Guide Dogs For The Blind in Boring. Nevertheless he'll still respond when disaster strikes.
"I won't be able to do a lot of the search and rescue activities since I would be more of a liability to my teammate and myself," he said. "But I can help with radio communications either at my home or at the staging area."