Photo by Gwen Davis
Neighbors gather at the Burien home of Rebecca Dare and Bill Opfermann to watch a video on disaster preparedness.

Burien neighbors prepare for disasters

By Gwen Davis

Rebecca Dare and Bill Opfermann know that being proactive can pay off in life-saving ways. Especially when it comes to preparing for a possible natural disaster.

On Saturday morning, Dec. 8, the Burien couple hosted a neighborhood meeting at their home on disaster preparedness. More than one-dozen neighbors showed up. The last time this disaster preparedness meeting took place was two years ago.

“Our purpose, what we’re trying to do is get the word out [about disaster and also get other neighborhoods interested,” Opfermann said. “When that earthquake comes, when that disaster comes, you can never be prepared enough. So it’s really important we get the word out.”

The two-hour meeting was based largely on an interactive film, Building and Strengthening Disaster Readiness Among Neighbors, courtesy of Washington State’s Emergency Management Public Education program. The film took participants through the nine steps of disaster preparedness:
Take care of loved ones
Protect your head, feet and hands
Check the natural gas or propane at your home
Shut off water at the main house
Place the Help or OK sign
Put your fire extinguisher on the sidewalk
After steps 1-6 are completed, go to the Neighborhood Gathering Site
Form teams at the Neighborhood Gathering Site
Share what you have done with the rest of your neighbors

“Disasters can strike at any time,” the film began. “When they do, 911 emergency responders such as fire, police and utility personal may be overwhelmed with calls. They may not be able to respond for hours or days. How would you and your family survive a serious event like a disaster? What if the key to your survival isn’t just what you know but what others know and how you might be able to work together?”

While Pacific Northwest cities most likely would not deal with hurricanes, which obviously have been an issue for other parts of the country recently, Seattle is not immune to natural disasters.

Earthquakes could be a leading cause. Seattle has a history of experiencing earthquakes, such as the Nisqually quake of 2001, with a 6.8 magnitude. The damage from that quake was substantial.

Another cause could be a Mt. Rainier eruption, which could significantly alter the face of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area with mud flows.

Seattle might deal with landslides from wet weather or large snowmelts from the Cascades. While snowmelt landslides would not immediately affect the Seattle urban area, utilities and transportation networks could experience significant disruption. Additionally, landslides can accompany earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Furthermore, Seattle can experience the effects of constant flooding of rivers. While difficult to predict, these floods can threaten the foundation of nearby buildings.

Other natural disasters can occur, as well.

However, the film made clear that if people prepare, detrimental effects could be mitigated.

Opfermann said the group chose a neighborhood gathering site and care center and divided into four teams: listen to emergency radio, check vulnerable neighbors and help if necessary and shut off gas if needed. Attendees also put together a neighborhood skills and equipment inventory.

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