Expo highlights importance of preparing for disasters

Alaska’s capital city lies near a fault line and on the coastline, so tsunamis are a danger. The city is also located at the base of the Coast Mountains — a threat for avalanches.


Still, Juneau’s biggest liability is not in its surroundings, but what lies beneath the city.

Much of downtown is built on filled land supported in part by wooden pilings, making a downtown fire the biggest threat to the city.

“We have the potential in downtown Juneau to not only have a large, catastrophic fire, but a fire that could jump blocks underground and you wouldn’t even know it,” Tom Mattice, Juneau’s emergency programs manager, told Coast Guard families at the Disaster Preparedness Expo held at Centennial Hall Friday and Saturday.

Islands near Juneau would likely avert much of the danger from a large tsunami originating far from the city, but there is the possibility of a localized tsunami because of the nearby fault, Mattice said.

Those faults, however, do not typically produce large earthquakes. The threat of avalanche disasters are mostly isolated to known areas such as the Flume and Perseverance trails, Behrends Path, White Path, Thunder Mountain and the backcountry on Douglas Island.

The biggest danger for avalanches is the zone on Thane Road where a major avalanche crosses the road and stops in the water about every 18 months, Mattice said.

Additional threats to Juneau include landslides, earthquakes, severe weather, a collapse of the Juneau-Douglas Bridge, flooding, wildland fires and disasters at the airport or on a cruise ship.

This weekend’s expo was designed to raise awareness of possible disasters in Juneau, and to inform the public of what to do when those disasters strike.

A commonly overlooked issue when planning for disasters is accounting for the needs of any family pets said Rachel Trapp, a Juneau animal control officer.

“Having a leash or crate right next to supplies that are easily accessible is the best thing,” Trapp said.

Those supplies could be stored in a bucket and would include some food and water, and a first aid kit complete with any medication the animal is taking, she added.

Oftentimes animals are lost in the confusion during a disaster, so having identification on them is vital for their safe return, Trapp said.

In the event of Juneau losing power for an extended period of time — particularly in the instance of severe weather — having a way to know what is going on is important, said Mikko Wilson with the Local Emergency Communications Committee.

“Broadcasters will be broadcasting, and the National Weather Service will be sending out information,” Wilson said. “You just have to have a radio to receive it.”

Important features on emergency radios are durability, the ability to automatically switch from regular to emergency broadcast channels, an alternative or back-up power source — such as a hand crank or solar-rechargeable battery — and some sort of emergency lighting, like an LED flashlight built in.

Another important item to have ready before disaster strikes is a “super simple” to-do list for each family member in the event of an evacuation or “shelter in place” scenario, said Pamela Whillock-Olliff with Reuben Willis State Farm Insurance.

That list should include gathering food, high value items, means to keep warm and “comfort items” like candy or something enjoyable to help people feel a little better during stressful disaster situations, Whillock-Olliff said.

“If you don’t have comfort items, someone will be very hard to be with,” she said. “Think about whatever will lend comfort in uncomfortable situations.”

Perhaps the most vital necessity for disaster-stricken areas is a back-up food supply. This is particularly true for Juneau, which relies on barges to deliver most of its food, and only has about two weeks’ worth of food stored up in case of an emergency.

The solution that the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Cooperative Extension has developed is a “rotating pantry.”

Sarah Lewis, an associate professor with the extension, is spearheading some of the initiative, and has developed a plan to build the spare pantry without breaking the bank or letting food go to waste.

The concept is making a list of meals prepared weekly at home and then listing the ingredients. Those ingredients are purchased like normal. The difference is buying an extra week’s worth and keeping it in a separate storage space.

When the “daily pantry” runs out of an item, that item is moved up from the secondary source and that item is then replaced.

“The rotating from the main storage pantry to the daily pantry is so you don’t go to the storage during a disaster and realize everything expired two years ago,” Lewis said.

Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/reportermatt.


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