Many Woodburn residents are unprepared for a large-scale disaster, according to the findings of a survey by the Marion County Health Department. The survey was conducted to assess community needs in case of a major disaster such as an earthquake.
Oregon state and county governments are preparing disaster responses in the event of an earthquake caused by a fault line called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The fault line runs right down the center of the state, originating in Vancouver Island, Canada and ending off the Mendocino coastline in California.
The subduction zone is capable of producing massive 9.0 magnitude earthquakes, the last of which 300 years ago was likely accompanied by a tsunami that swamped the coastlines of Oregon and Washington and sent high waves across the Pacific Ocean to Japan.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) predicts that Oregon will suffer the worst damage when the Cascadia quake hits, with as many as 13,000 deaths and 27,000 injuries and 2.5 million people displaced. Scientist predict a 40-percent chance the temblor will strike in the next 50 years.
According to two previous studies, Woodburn and northern Marion County are particularly vulnerable in case of such a disaster.
The first from 2015, the Marion County Community Health Assessment, found that Woodburn and northern Marion County residents were less likely than others in the county to have a disaster plan. The second, a study by Oregon State University professor Jeffrey Bethel, found that Spanish-speaking individuals in Marion County were less likely than English-speaking individuals to have seven days' worth of medication.
In response Marion County Health Department implemented a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess Woodburn residents' ability to prepare for emergencies.
County Public Health Epidemiologist Rachel Posnick presented the findings of the study, called a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER,) to the Woodburn City Council in March.
The CASPER survey found that fewer than half of Woodburn residents had an established evacuation plan, and only half had emergency supply kits. One-fifth of households had at least one non-English-speaking resident.
The survey found that 44 percent of Woodburn residents needed medication for diseases such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, while fewer than half had enough medication to last a week.
The data was collected in spring 2017 by county health department staff, Oregon Health Authority staff, emergency responders and volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team. Survey teams went door to door in Woodburn and received responses from 178 households, which were used to provide an estimate of the whole population.
Woodburn's CERT program has recently expanded firefighter support services into Hubbard Fire District, according to Marion County Emergency Management Program Coordinator Erik Anderson. The CERT curriculum doesn't focus on any specific vulnerable population, but it does conduct training in English and Spanish, Anderson said.
"Our teams have conducted training in English and Spanish to school districts, medical facilities and the general community. Training is usually free and open to anyone who is willing to attend the entire 21-hour course," Anderson said.
Marion County currently sponsors CERT programs locally in Woodburn, Mount Angel and Gervais, but it's also available in Silverton, Keizer, Salem, Turner, Stayton, Sublimity, Gates, Santiam Canyon and Aumsville.
The health department recommended increasing messages to Woodburn residents about the need for a family evacuation plan in case of emergency, and promoting CERT involvement and disaster preparedness classes in Spanish, Russian and English.
Marion County is the only county in the state to conduct a CASPER survey without assistance from the state or CDC. Posnick said it was important for county staff and volunteers to know how to conduct the survey because it is part of the CDC's standard response to emergencies.
"It's a good methodology because you get info that you can generalize to a whole community," Posnick said.
The survey can use a small collection of responses to make general assumptions about the needs of a specific community.
"(In Woodburn) there is an issue with income and making preparation affordable, so we sought resources to make emergency kits more accessible to families that might be experiencing poverty," she said.
Posnick said the survey's focus was to provide information to local agencies and emergency services to help inform their work.
"We hope that they use it to mobilize," Posnick said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.