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In emergency, city says shelters will come in handy

Juneau Assembly approves $600,000 to buy structures

Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

If disaster strikes in Southeast Alaska, don't be surprised if you get medical care in a tent.

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The Juneau Assembly unanimously voted during a Monday meeting to front the nearly $600,000 needed to purchase six "emergency shelters," with the promise of reimbursement from a federal grant.

The shelters, which resemble sophisticated pop-tents, come in two sizes. They range from 570 to 917 square feet, according to the vendor's Web site, www.westernshelter.com. The site also boasts that the shelters can be set up by four people in less than 45 minutes.

The three larger shelters will be stored in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka - most likely in the communities' hospitals.

Wrangell and Petersburg will share one of the smaller shelters, as will Haines and Skagway. The Prince of Wales town of Klawock will house a shelter to be used by the entire island.

The shelters are easily transportable and can fit in a truck trailer or be loaded into a single engine float plane and flown anywhere in the region.

Together, the six shelters could create a 56-bed heated hospital, said Mike Patterson, the city's emergency program manager. They also are compatible with shelters used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Each one is self-contained and can be used in many situations.

"They can be used for triage, administering shots or medication. (They can be used) as a temporary morgue or used as a field hospital," Patterson said. They also could be used as an isolation area in the case of a pandemic flu or SARS outbreak, he said.

In the absence of a disaster, the tents will be used for training twice per year.

"You kind of buy them to be prepared, but hope you don't ever have to actually use them," he said. He anticipated that when the shelters arrive this spring, emergency personnel from around the region would fly to Juneau to receive training on setting them up.

The six shelters will cost a total of $563,814, which ultimately will be paid for with a grant from the Homeland Security Grants Program. The grants are administered to areas that are part of the "Metropolitan Medical Response System." For Southeast to be eligible, Patterson included the entire region, as opposed to a highly populated metropolitan area, in the response system.

The program was developed to aid areas, develop plans, conduct training and exercises, and acquire equipment to respond to a mass casualty event. It was created in 1996 in response to the Tokyo mass transit Sarin gas attack by Aumm Shinrikyo and the domestic terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma the previous year.

Anchorage is in a different response area, but Patterson said he did not believe the city was looking at acquiring emergency shelters.

"We realize that we are pretty isolated down here," he said.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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