Citizens get prepared to face disaster

Dozens around Anchorage are stocking up and planning under city's Emergency Watch program

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2006

ANCHORAGE - When a major disaster hits Anchorage, it may take days for authorities to respond.

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Aaron Pascar won't wait that long.

Pascar keeps his Nunaka Valley home outfitted with six generators, a windup radio, 55 gallons of water and hundreds of sheets and blankets. And that's only the beginning.

"My house is like a warehouse," said the 60-year-old retired railroad worker. "I'm prepared."

Pascar and dozens of others around Anchorage have joined a growing group stocking up and planning for disaster under the city's new Emergency Watch program. He's ready to be in the lead in his neighborhood if an earthquake, wildfire or terrorist attack overtaxes rescue, police, fire and medical services and people have to look out for themselves.

"The question is When? Not if," say the fliers for the program.

Modeled after Neighborhood Watch, Emergency Watch wants residents to band together and take control. But unlike the former, which targets crime on an active basis, Emergency Watch participants sit in training classes for several hours, devise a plan, set up a cache, then wait.

Residents like Pascal have gone out and bought supplies for themselves, their families and their closest dozen neighbors. Pascal has spent thousands of dollars. He knows his neighbors, their phone numbers and where the doctors, nurses, handymen and engineers are on his block.

"I'm trying to get other people excited about being prepared for it," Pascal said.

More than 100 people have signed up to be neighborhood leaders since March, said RaeShaun Bibbs, spokeswoman for the city's Office of Emergency Management. Once they've attended their orientations, they recruit neighbors and create an action plan: Who has supplies? Where will people meet? Who will take care of the elderly in the neighborhood?

Two neighborhoods, one in Sand Lake and one in South Anchorage, are fully prepared, according to Bibbs. And the classes for future training are filling up fast, she said.

"Fortunately, Alaskans are pretty self-reliant," said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton. "You can look at that big RV in your backyard as your lifeboat, stocked with your sleeping bags, propane stove, maybe even a shower and stereo."

Michael Mitchell, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Muldoon, has in his supply kit more than 125 gallons of water, 100 double-A batteries, sleeping bags for various temperatures, cans of soup, oil, coffee, 100 pounds of rice and a book on survival. He knows exactly how long he can go without air, warmth, water or food.

Eagle River Heights resident Mike Harsh said he has enough supplies for him and his wife to last six to eight months. Harsh, a 57-year-old retired Air Force man, has included in his kit air horns, walkie-talkies, Meals Ready to Eat, saws, axes and electric heaters.

"I've seen so many people in disasters like Katrina that weren't prepared at all, and they were left at the mercy of our government," he said. "I'm not going to put myself and my family in that position."

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