Worst-case scenario

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2003

Eight more Southeast residents began training Saturday in Juneau to respond to major emergencies such as earthquakes.

Training to be part of a community emergency response team is intended to prepare "people to look after people in the community until the emergency services arrive and can do their thing," said Nick Meacher, one of four trainers in the city-sponsored program.

Participants thought about what sort of large-scale emergencies could strike Juneau. They came up with a list: earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, landslides, floods, terrorist attacks, large-airplane crashes, cruise ship fires, forest or grass fires, a large pile-up of vehicles in the fog, bridge collapses, epidemics and riots.

"Not many people give a thought to (preparedness) because some things are so rare, but they could happen," said Zak Kirkpatrick, a 15-year-old Boy Scout who is taking the course. "I want to make sure if anything does happen that I'm prepared to help."

The idea of the course is to train people to eventually form neighborhood teams. Besides knowing how to take care of their own families in a major emergency, they'll be able to help authorities assess damage and needs.

Four firefighters are on duty at any given time downtown, and five are stationed near the airport. Those firefighters have two fire trucks and two ambulances between them. The city relies on volunteers firefighters to be able to get to the fire stations and their equipment.

"How much do you think the fire department is going to be able to respond to initially?" he asked the participants Saturday at the downtown fire hall in the first day of multi-day training.

An emergency could affect the food supply if the Seattle airport closed, suggested Meacher, a dispatcher with the Juneau police, a former police officer in London, England, and a former paramedic.

"We are very reliant on Seattle," he said.

About 80 people have been trained in Juneau in at least part of the program, Meacher said. The current course is the city's fourth or fifth. Lessons will extend into early December and include basic medical training, responses to a terrorist attack, searches and rescues, fire training and organizing a team.

The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but has been put on in the past by volunteers such as Meacher.

The program has been around since the early 1990s, but it picked up momentum after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Alaska Division of Emergency Services didn't immediately respond to questions about how many people have been trained statewide.

At Saturday's training, Meacher walked participants through the sorts of problems that could develop after a natural disaster such as an earthquake. The aftermath is the real problem, he said.

"Down power lines, bridges destroyed," said Ernie Mueller, the city's former public works director and a course participant.

"Some people don't have heat or the ability to cook," said Cheryl Easterwood, the city's coordinator of emergency management.

"Think about where you work, where your kids go to school, where you live," Meacher said. "Do you have a plan as to what your kids are going to do, where you go, how they're going to get in touch with you?"

For more information on the training, call Meacher at 796-3322 or Easterwood at 586-0221.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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