My Turn: Juneau's disaster preparedness grows with planning

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

As the Emergency Programs Manager for City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ), I would like to respond to questions we've received about how our Homeland Security grants are spent.

It's true we live in a community where our citizens can only be evacuated by air or water. Evacuation resources are limited in quantity and are further limited by weather and tides. However, the hazards Juneau faces (avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, extreme weather, and man-made hazards) are ones that will typically occur with little or no warning, and pre-event evacuation is generally not going to be an option.

Juneau has fewer than 200 trained volunteer responders to assist our professional paid responders. Realizing Juneau may not receive outside assistance for up to 96 hours following a major disaster, I strongly believe every household in Juneau should be prepared to be self-sustaining for a minimum of 96 hours following a disaster. Food, water, flashlights, batteries, radio, sleeping bags, and games (it's still important to play) should all be stored to be used in the event of an emergency. Know how to secure the electric, gas and water service to your home. Get training in first aid and CPR, and have a fully stocked first aid kit. For a complete disaster preparation checklist log onto www.FEMA.org or better yet, visit or call our local Red Cross office (463-5713) for disaster preparedness information and training.

Since taking over this office in June, updating our plans has been my highest priority. Juneau has a detailed emergency operations plan, avalanche plan, Salmon Creek Dam emergency action plan, airport emergency plan, and AEL&P disaster contingency plan. Our cruise ship emergency response plan was adopted by the Assembly on Monday, and our hazard mitigation plan is currently at FEMA for approval.

Plans in progress include a terrorism/weaons of mass destruction plan, hazard materials emergency plan, and a sheltering plan. I just awarded a contract to develop a Southeast Alaska regional mass casualty care and evacuation plan, which will partner Juneau with every community in Southeast Alaska. Juneau has a fully operational Emergency Operations Center that can be staffed and operational within an hour. We have identified reception centers, shelters and mass inoculation centers that can be opened following a disaster in Juneau.

We partner with multiple federal, state, private and nonprofit organizations. We sponsor a community emergency response team, and partner with our highly trained local volunteer emergency response organizations - our fire department, Juneau Mountain Rescue, S.E.A.D.O.G.S., Capital City Fire and Rescue rope rescue and dive teams, and Juneau Ski Patrol avalanche response teams; and have the ability to call in outside resources if required. We have purchased (using grant monies) emergency response equipment for the hospital, fire and police departments, and more is coming. Our Local Emergency Planning Committee is sponsoring a Citizen Corps program in Juneau. I have recently contacted several large businesses to discuss training their personnel in first aid and CPR (using grant money) to allow them to be first responders should the need arise. I have a future goal to provide annual first aid and CPR training to every teacher in Juneau.

Additionally, I sit on the State Emergency Response Commission, Regional Interagency Steering Committee, and Anti-terrorism Advisory Council, which allows Juneau to partner with other Alaskan communities to develop coordinated strategies to disaster responses. As a community, we have made good progress in our emergency planning.

However, there is still much more work to be done, and citizen input and volunteerism is critical. The more citizens we can train in emergency response the better prepared as a community we will become. The Red Cross is always looking for response volunteers and instructors. Our Local Emergency Planning Committee, which helps chart the direction and set priorities, seeks citizen input and has open committee seats. Capital City Fire and Rescue is currently recruiting volunteers, and our local emergency response teams also recruit new members.

• Michael Patterson is Juneau's emergency programs manager.



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