State officials promote emergency preparedness after Japanese disaster

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011

While Japan’s nuclear disaster doesn’t appear likely to affect Alaska, the state’s top emergency officials are saying the earthquake that triggered a tsunami and the nuclear emergency highlight the need for ongoing emergency preparedness.

“We are encouraging all the citizens of Alaska, no matter what the emergency, to be prepared and have an emergency supply kit and a disaster communication plan and be prepared to respond to any type of emergency,” said Brian Fisher, chief of operations for the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Had the Japanese nuclear disaster been worse, one of the actions that emergency officials might have recommended was “sheltering in place” to avoid fallout.

A more dramatic response, such as evacuation, was unlikely to be needed, several officials told legislators Tuesday.

An important part of the state’s ability to manage emergency response is to be able to communicate with the public.

“We have an extensive plan, and it is reviewed annually,” said Greg Wilkinson, public affairs officer with the Department of Health and Social Services.

“Our main way of notifying the public is through regular media and state websites, but also through new social media such as Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

Even in the event of a bigger Japanese disaster, weather patterns would likely give the state two or more days of advance warning.

If additional measures, such as preventative medications, were recommended by officials, there could be time to respond.

Potassium iodide, which can block the absorption of radiation, is held in a U.S. national stockpile that is controlled by the Centers for Disease Control, said Chris Laborde, public health preparedness manager for the state.

“CDC will only deploy the strategic national stockpile if there is a credible threat,” he said.

That doesn’t appear to be needed, but it would take about 12 hours to get the medication to Alaska in an emergency.

It must be taken from two hours before to four hours after exposure to block radiation absorption, the Legislature was told.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or

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