Try to count how many disasters we saw this year and you will run out of fingers.
2020 is most certainly going down in history as the year of emergencies. September, however, is all about guarding against emergencies. For this year’s National Emergency Preparedness Month, Dan Nelson, emergency manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, is doling out some advice about what it means to expect the unexpected.
“The thing that I ask people to do is to think about all the things that you interact with on a daily basis that you need for living,” Nelson said. “Really, think about, What do I interact with for seven days just in my normal week? And then, now, Do I have a backup for that?"
Everyone’s plan might look different, said Nelson. For example, you might want to make sure you can access food and water in a pinch, or a source of emergency power, or a vehicle and any medications you may need.
There’s an added urgency to emergency preparedness in a place like Alaska, because of the state’s limited resources and disconnect from the rest of the country.
“And so when we have to ramp up for something that’s very, very large — so this is the scenario that we think about if we have a 1964 earthquake again, for example,” he said. “We know we would need quite a number of resources, whether that be supplies or people or equipment — whatever it is — from the Lower 48. And that obviously has a longer lead time than something that can simply be put into a truck from the next state over, since we’re dealing with air logistics and things.”
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve really encouraged people to be resilient in their own households and have supplies to be self-sufficient for at least seven days,” he added, “because if those transit systems are disrupted or slowed down, that could profoundly affect us all.”
The OEM has had its hands full this year, what with the global pandemic and all. But it’s pursuing other projects, too, like an update to its coastal siren system. That system was installed in the borough’s coastal areas back in 2007 to warn about tsunami hazards and other impending disasters. Nelson said its technology is in need of an upgrade.
The update will add a third way to send out warnings through the system.
“So it’s going to increase resilience for our coastal communities. In case there is a problem with infrastructure, we’re still able to warn people about a tsunami or other hazard.”
The office is also working on its Emergency Operations Plan, which is now before the borough assembly.
“When we talk about our emergency operations plan, such as the one we’re working to update now, really it’s a guidance document,” Nelson said. “And we go into it understanding that our Emergency Operations Plan is not a how-to manual, but gives us a framework of, ‘Here are some things we should be looking at. Here’s where we possibly could go.’ So we take that plan and we combine it with training that we do for our OEM staff and our incident responders, and between those two we can create an action plan. That action plan is different for every incident, and perhaps every day of every incident.”
As for wildfires, like those raging across the West Coast and last year’s Swan Lake Fire, Nelson said their season is pretty much over.
“Alaska’s fire season tends to be much earlier than the fire season in the Lower 48, so we were definitely very concerned about that warm, dry weather we were experiencing in May and June and somewhat into July, and looking at those high fire danger days,” he said. “But because of the burn suspension, people doing the right thing and being responsible with their burning, we didn't end up having any large wildfires.
Read the draft of the OEM’s Emergency Operation Plan and its disaster preparedness resources on its website.