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When it comes to winter weather, emergency planners say, ‘Be prepared’ January 15, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in Duyuru (Announcements), English, Haber (News).
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The heavy snowfall in December and the windstorms that blasted us in January make it clear that winter on Whidbey Island can be a bit of an adventure.

No matter what kind of winter-related emergencies you may encounter, emergency service officials agree that becoming familiar with the relief services offered in your community is an essential part of personal preparation.

Island County services

The Island County Department of Emergency Management is at the center of the Island’s emergency services.

But while the department is ready to help in the event of an emergency, “the government is not in the business of bailing you out,” Deputy Director David Hollett said.

Emergency service agencies are set up to rescue people in times of a disaster, not take care of them for extended periods. In other words, when the power goes out, there is no secret county warehouse where the masses can go to get free batteries.

“It rests on the shoulders of each individual to be prepared,” he said.

And preparation is key to surviving any emergency situation. Waiting until the disaster strikes is too late.

Essentials include a battery or hand-powered radio, water for at least three days and keeping your car’s fuel tank and your home’s propane tank at least half full at all times. Another tip is to keep a landline telephone at your home.

“99.9 percent of the time, a landline won’t fail,” Hollett said.

When cell phones and cordless phones are down, an old fashioned, plug-into-a-jack phone may be your only way to reach the outside world, he said.

But if preparation fails or conditions require you to evacuate your home, you can rest assured that emergency shelters will be available in your community, Hollett said. However, to keep people from “self-dispatching,” Hollett said, the shelter locations are not revealed until an actual emergency.

During the 2006/2007 winter storms, five shelters were activated across Whidbey Island, Hollett said. Shelters can be a place to get a hot meal and a place to sleep – or just a place to get warm.

In an emergency, call 911, the local Red Cross office, emergency management’s information hotline or your local fire station, and they can tell you where to find warm and safe shelter.

Local preparedness

All three of Whidbey’s municipalities have emergency services designed to aid residents in an emergency.

In Coupeville, the volunteer Neighborhood Emergency Team invested more than 1,000 hours over the past two years preparing for the worst, Coordinator Eve Parrish said.

In 2007, the team created an information database of Coupeville’s residents by visiting roughly 700 residences. They gaathered information ranging from the number of people living in a home to the special needs of occupants.

“We made personal contacts instead of just leaving something on a door,” Parrish said.

Further information was acquired through a questionnaire mailed to residents with their water bill. The form is still available at Town Hall for those who did not fill one out.

The team also formed a subcommittee, Cooperating Agencies Responding to an Emergency, or CARE, to enlist the help of other local groups and businesses in a crisis. The team even created magnets that list important phone numbers and locations to reach out for help.

“The goal is to get one in every home,” Parrish said.

Anyone interested in learning more or becoming a volunteer can call Parrish at 360-678-0641.

The Coupeville Recreation Hall at the corner of Alexander and Coveland streets is the town’s primary emergency shelter. Since 2007, the building has been outfitted with a generator, wireless Internet access and cable television.

To find out if the shelter has been activated, contact Town Hall. During an emergency, recorded messages will be constantly updated as new information becomes available, Parrish said.

Langley area residents can also be confident about the resources available to them, Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson said. After the 2006/2007 storms, the city created the Emergency Shelter Team, a group that ensures displaced residents have a place to go in the event of sustained power outages, such as those experienced in the winter of 2006/2007.

The system hinges on being prepared, Samuelson said. For example, in December, as soon as it was clear that the Island could be hit by heavy snow, the team immediately began to prepare Langley’s primary shelter – the Christian Missionary Alliance church at East 6th Street and Cascade Avenue – just in case the power went out, too.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have to enact anything, but we were ready to go,” Samuelson said.

Langley City Hall is set up to be residents’ information link, he said. Callers can find out whether the emergency shelter has been activated and, in the event of heavy snow, find out which roads have been cleared.

“We really try to stay on top of things,” Samuelson said.

The same can be said for Oak Harbor. Of the three municipalities on Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor is the only one with a comprehensive emergency management plan that meets state and federal requirements. Langley and Coupeville are covered under the county’s plan.

The all-hazards plan is intended for use in any emergency. In other words, Oak Harbor is ready to tackle everything from a power outage to a major earthquake, said Mark Soptich, Oak Harbor fire chief and director of Emergency Services.

Like Langley, Oak Harbor was ready in December when deep snow blanketed the Island. The city has several facilities ready to act as emergency shelters – most are schools and churches.

“All we would have had to do is turn a key and do the dance,” Soptich said.

The city’s primary shelter, the Oak Harbor Senior Center at 51 S.E. Jerome Street, was opened mainly for the benefit of the city’s homeless, Soptich said. A total of six people stayed there.

To find out about shelter locations in an emergency, residents should call 911, Soptich said. I-COM, Island County’s dispatch service, acts as the city’s information hub and can provide residents with up-to-date information.

But the best way to deal with any emergency is to be well prepared so you don’t need those extra services in the first place.

“The more we prepare and plan, the better,” Soptich said. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

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