Posted May 29, 2020
Not just another earthquake
I grew up with earthquakes in California, and may even have brought a few with me on visits to Oregon (in 1993 I happened to be at my grandmother’s house in SE Portland and was shaken awake by the “Spring Break Quake”; Mt. St. Helens went off during another visit, but I won’t take credit for that). My attitude about earthquakes has been both cavalier (“it’s just a little earthquake, I’ve felt plenty”) and vigilant (we had our house bolted to the foundation soon after moving to Hillsdale).
However, after 21 years in Portland and being vaguely aware of warnings about the “big one," I finally get it. Jesse Engum, Hillsdale NET (Neighborhood Emergency Team) Co-Lead recently explained to me the difference between a fault line slippage, such as I experienced many times in California courtesy of the San Andreas Fault, and the Cascadia Subduction Zone. According to Engum, the forces released in subduction earthquakes can impact a larger zone, last longer, be more intense, and ultimately more destructive than fault line quakes.
Because this type of shaking occurs more rarely, we haven’t had the motivation in the Portland area until fairly recently to upgrade construction codes and retrofit older structures to withstand a major seismic event. Scientists predict widespread damage to buildings, roadways, and bridges that could paralyze emergency services. But, as Engum also points out, there are simple steps individuals and households can take to weather the first days and weeks after a major seismic event, and NET is here to help us prepare. . .
Earthquake, flooding, wildfire, landslide. . . COVID-19?
In a major emergency, such as the earthquake predicted for our region sometime in the next 50-150 years, roads may be blocked delaying the arrival of firefighters and police. Communication to emergency service providers could be out. In that event, volunteers with Portland’s NETs are trained to help their neighbors stay safe, treat minor injuries, and set up communication with the city’s Emergency Coordination Center (ECC).
NET volunteers are also trained to deploy in other local emergencies such as downed power lines, small fires, or damage to gas lines that threaten lives or property. Hillsdale NET’s Engum has deployed several times to emergency scenes elsewhere as well, including the Eagle Creek Fire and the 2016 gas leak explosion that took out the corner of NW 23rd and Glisan.
Our current pandemic public emergency doesn’t threaten lives and property in the same manner as a natural disaster involving shifting land masses, flooding or fires, but it is nonetheless a natural disaster that may impact our public safety infrastructure and could overwhelm hospitals’ ability to provide care for the victims.
NETs have not yet been deployed as first responders to COVID, says Hillsdale NET Co-lead Maarika Krumhansl, but they have been called into action distributing hygiene posters to high traffic areas such as grocery stores and collecting several truckloads of PPE (personal protective equipment) to donate to frontline health workers and emergency first responders. Some are helping out at the city’s ECC, activated in early March to coordinate the COVID response.
Fifty-seven NETs operate under the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (BPEM), which provides training, volunteer certification, and resources. Training is free, but NET volunteers must purchase items for their NET kit as well as basic first aid and emergency supplies for their own household.
Hillsdale NET counts 32 active members out of more than 100 that have received certification since the program was established. Once they have completed the initial training and passed a background check, volunteers meet monthly to plan outreach and emergency preparedness activities, or to engage in drills or other training to maintain their certification. Outreach events range from information nights at Hillsdale schools to staffing a booth at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.
Krumhansl, who grew up in Hillsdale and is raising her own family here, got involved shortly after her four year old was born. Krumhansl then recruited her mother, Liina Teose, to the Hillsdale team.
Teose lives near Sunset Blvd. and is a member of both the NET and BEECN (Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node) teams. Should phones and internet service be unavailable, BEECN volunteers have the training and the necessary equipment to erect a communications center on the Wilson High School field that will relay information between the city EEC and the neighborhood.
In addition to their training as first responders, NETs are tasked with planning for “community resiliency,” the ability for residents to survive the first days or weeks after an emergency. For the past few decades the focus has been on encouraging neighbors to make emergency plans and gather food, water, and basic medical supplies, and is now expanding to include the development of caches of community supplies. It will be especially useful to have radio equipment, medical supplies, and food available near schools if, for example, an earthquake strikes during the school day and parents are unable to reach their children immediately.
Both Krumhansl and Engum predict that emergency planning will evolve in response to the pandemic. Krumhansl is considering what new equipment or medical supplies might be appropriate to add to Hillsdale NET emergency caches, while Engum points out the newfound recognition of the importance of social networks. And as baking supplies have emerged as essential quarantine items, Engum has no doubt that they will find their way onto emergency supply lists as well.
Purchase of community emergency supplies is funded by donations to Hillsdale NET, and most of those donations come from Fred Meyer’s community rewards program. Here’s how to designate Hillsdale NET as a beneficiary of your Freddy’s purchases (in addition to earning your own rewards):
Sign in or sign up for an account
Enter “Hillsdale” in the search box
Choose Friends of Portland Fire Hillsdale
To get involved
Next Hillsdale NET meeting: Tuesday, June 16, 6:30-8:30pm; location TBD, email Hillsdaleornet@gmail.com for details.
Has COVID-19 changed your ideas about what it means to be prepared for an emergency? Tell us about it.