It's hard to imagine a day when everything around you that you consider normal comes to a screeching halt, but that's what would happen in the event of a natural disaster such as an extreme earthquake event and subsequent tsunami which wipes out all communication technology and supply routes. Although the probability of this event happening in the next 10 years is low, it's important to consider what we would do as a community to survive the aftermath and eventually rebuild a thriving community following a tragedy such as that.
On September 10-12th, 2019, the residents of Prince of Wales Island were given the opportunity to learn from the experts about steps we could take within our individual and island-wide communities to prepare for responding effectively and efficiently to emergencies. The State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (AK-DHSEM) hosted this 3-day workshop so community members could learn about their responsibility to respond in case of emergencies, actionable steps they could take to get prepared for emergencies, and available resources to help small rural communities become more prepared. The main take-away from this event was: the probability of an extreme emergency event is low, but the possibility is real, and small rural communities are at added risk due to their remote nature, so everyone needs to be prepared for, and trained how to respond in case of, emergencies.
The Responsibility to Respond
In the event of an emergency in rural Alaska, the presenters informed us that we should expect to be responsible for our own recovery efforts for 72-hours. Three days... that's how long we should expect it will take for Red Cross or any State or Federal response efforts to reach us. This means that our communities need to be prepared to provide food, water, shelter, safety, and security for every single resident as well as possible visitors.
Let the reality of that sink in. How prepared do you feel as an individual? How prepared do you feel as a family? How prepared do you feel as a community? When I thought about those questions, the answer to each was a resounding NOT AT ALL!!! I imagine this is the same for many of you, and the presenters understood this too, which is why they held the workshop in the first place, and are doing so all over the state of Alaska. They're on a mission to help us all learn how to become more resilient to the negative impacts of emergency situations.
Taking Action to Get Ready to Respond
There were three main steps recommended by the presenters to help communities get ready to respond in the event of emergencies: (1) have as many people as possible participate in Incident Command Training (ICS 100, 200, 700, and 800 which are available for free online), (2) develop Small Community Emergency Respond Plans (SCERP) and regularly conduct practice drills involving the entire community, and (3) make it a priority to have a few members of each community become Red Cross volunteers so they can assist with mass care and shelter during emergencies.
Getting More Prepared with Support
There were two suggested steps communities could take in order to get more prepared with support. The first was to seek the help of the AK-DHSEM to conduct a Hazard Mitigation Assessment (HMA) and help with the development of a Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) which could help communities seek out grants and other funding for projects aimed at reducing the risk of harm to communities due to emergencies. The second was to reach out to Brian Templin with the Southern Southeast Local Emergency Planning Commission (SSLEPC) to learn more about resources available on the island to help communities become more prepared.
Inspired to Act by Being Informed
It's a funny thing... one day I wasn't thinking about emergency preparedness, and after the workshop this is the thought that pops up daily: "What am I doing NOW while things are calm to prepare for stressful times so I'm prepared to respond calmly during stressful times which will eventually happen LATER." My hope is that this article inspires others to begin thinking about this too and start taking action to become more informed and more prepared.
My sincere gratitude goes out to all the presenters and support staff who made this event possible. It truly was an informative and inspiring workshop, and has begun to catalyze a lot of positive actions here on the island. Thank you for sharing your stories and your expertise, whilst also making the event fun and engaging, and inspiring the members of our community to start taking action to create a healthier, happier, and more prepared communities!!
Thank you to Sara Yockey, Transportation Director for the Organized Village of Kasaan, for a heart-wrenching keynote presentation about your recent experience responding to an emergency situation in our community with the landslide and road closure.
And one final THANK YOU to the entire Prince of Wales (POW) Red Cross Disaster Action Team for making lunch for the workshop participants on the first day, providing delicious snacks and beverages to keep our blood-sugar level, and for volunteering your precious time to help our communities in case of emergency - your work does not go unnoticed, and we're blessed to have you all as friends, family, and neighbors! If anyone is interested in supporting their work, please consider purchasing some raffle ticket through the POW Chamber of Commerce. They are $5 each, there are 6 prizes (all are 2 RT tickets on plane or ferry), and the drawing will be held at the Holiday Bazaar in Craig on November 30th, 2019. Call Wendy at 907-755-2626 for more information.