Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a three-part series, which began Aug. 7, to look at the state of emergency preparedness in the Cottage Grove area, identify possible future threats and examine solutions.
Understandably shaken by this year’s “wake-up call” of a snowstorm, flooding and a fire, area residents and officials alike are keen on developing readiness strategies and learning more about how to be prepared.
Online, preparedness tips abound.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides an encyclopedic index of checklists and toolkits. The American Red Cross preaches the three golden rules of obtaining a kit, making a plan and becoming informed. Lane County has compiled a comprehensive “two-weeks ready” list and thorough table of contents for its recommendations on emergency management.
With so many resources to choose from, looking local is not a bad place to start and Cottage Grove is home to plenty of its own options.
Among readiness programs, perhaps none is as ubiquitous as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, a FEMA-based program sponsored and administered by many local government agencies. The program provides community members with standardized testing, training and an operational framework for emergencies within
a designated jurisdiction.
Though the program was once a feature of the Cottage Grove community, it gradually lost traction and dissolved years ago. The past few years, however, have seen a resurrection of the program in the Creswell area.
South Lane County Fire and Rescue (SLCFR) and the City of Creswell began a Teen CERT pilot program in 2016, encouraging young people in the Creswell area from ages 14 to 20 to learn disaster readiness skills. Along with disaster training, teens were able to fulfill some of their re-quired community service hours through the program.
SLCFR Division Chief Aaron Smith is the program director for the district’s CERT program.
“This, currently, will be our third year,” said Smith. “We opened it up to outside Creswell proper as well, because the more the merrier.”
The program proved popular enough, with eight participants joining the first year and an additional four the second. With the success of the Teen CERT program in Creswell, SLCFR was convinced it could be successfully reintroduced to the wider community.
“We’ve put some money in the program and now we’re going to open it up to everybody,” said Smith.
The program, which is free to join, is delivered in nine units covering topics such as disaster preparedness, medical operations and light search and rescue. The entire course takes about 40 hours to complete spread out over a few months. The program finishes with a disaster simulation in which members are deployed and try to put their skills to use.
Through the course, participants are expected to learn skills such as how to identify hazards, set up treatment areas, work as a team to apply basic fire suppression strategies, employ basic medical treatments and perform other duties as needed under the CERT organizational structure.
“We even added on there CPR First Aid,” said Smith, “so anybody who goes through the program will be CPR First Aid qualified at the end of the program.”
CERT participation in severe disasters has its own limitations, though. Teen CERT members, for example, were not deployed during the recent flooding disaster in April.
“Do we want the CERT team going out to the trailer park and wading through water that’s moving?” Smith said. “That’s the thing, that’s where you have to draw that line.”
However, CERT programs can provide support to one of the key challenges faced by the fire district: manpower.
“If we can employ and utilize say, 30 more people … they can cover such a bigger area and then contact us,” said Smith. “It casts a broader net.”
Smith hopes to introduce CERT to the community this fall after a public question and answer forum this September.
“We’ll hold the meeting here in the training room … and find out what kind of interest we really have,” said Smith.
One of the challenges of keeping such a program alive is maintaining member interest, as evidenced by CERT’s gradual fading away years earlier.
“We want the CERT team to be more than just, ‘We’ll call ya when we need ya for a disaster,’” said Smith. “If you just have them sitting in the wind and they took the CERT program class seven years ago, the Rolodex is going to be obsolete.”
With Teen CERT, SLCFR has used several programs and events such as the Emergency Preparedness Fair, Fourth of July celebrations and firefighter breakfast functions as components of its outreach program, keeping members involved and connected with the fire district.
Smith is intent on continuing to give CERT members a sense of community with similar outreach events.
“They need to do more than just sit at home at wait for the call,” he said. “We want to create a family dynamic as well.”
Smith is hopeful the program will provide not only training, but a stronger community cohesiveness that will ultimately serve to aid SLCFR in its mission.
“It’s that small piece of the pie that’s missing in the community to supplement our efforts,” he said.
Response in Emergencies
While CERT carries the authority of federal backing behind it, smaller groups, too have come forward to fill in community gaps.
One local aspiring nonprofit, Communities Actively Responding in Emergencies (CARE), has ideas of how to provide some foundations for the community.
“We’re offering preparedness opportunities through presentations and we’ll do consultations with folks if they request it,” said co-founder Shiloh Glaspell. “We help them figure out what they need and how to best prepare those supplies.”
In contrast to CERT, “ours will be more focused on helping folks get the supplies that they need and help them develop a plan for themselves, because everybody’s lifestyle is going to be different,” she said.
Glaspell fears that many households rely too much on government authorities to take care of problems during an emergency and as such emphasizes individual dependence.
“Within certain guidelines they can help to an extent,” said Glaspell of the government bodies, “but they’re not going to be there to help us during an initial disaster. So it’s up to the individuals to be prepared on their own — be aware of their needs and surroundings. If anything, our snow-storm and some of our flooding taught people that they weren’t ready at all.”
Clear plans of action, she said, are critical to resiliency in the face of disaster, because not everyone’s plans may necessarily overlap.
“Our city managed their situation exactly the way that their emergency plan is dictated to handle it,” said Glaspell. “The point of the emergency plan to the City of Cottage Grove is to ensure that our emergency channels and our government keep running.”
With authorities often focused on maintaining the governmental structure and overburdened by the myriad aid requests from the community during an emergency, Glaspell is looking to educate people on the dividing line of dependency.
“It’s understanding your infrastructure,” she said. “Where the city starts and where the people starts are two different lines. Community members felt the city didn’t help them — they weren’t aware of the difference between city planning and community planning.”
Glaspell hopes to capitalize on the community spirit already alive in the Cottage Grove area and enhance coordination efforts among individuals and groups.
“Being able to choreograph that with our emergency departments and government would be a real asset to the whole community, both governmental and individual,” she said.
Keeping neighborhoods and organizations connected within Cottage Grove remains an important mission, but the stakes rise the farther from the city you get. For a community like Dorena, the need for preparedness became especially evident this year.
“It’s beautiful, but it’s one of the areas of concern for our community,” said Lane County Emergency Manager Patence Winningham.
Winningham recently attended meetings at Dorena’s Row River Church where community members have so far gathered twice to devise their own emergency action plans.
Resident Tina Henderson is among the group’s organizers.
“The point of these meetings is, as a whole, to get the group together and talk about stuff,” she said. “We would really like little groups to get together and find out who needs help, who to check on.”
Although residents already interact on a Facebook page called “Twilight Bark,” which acts as a first line of information distribution for the area, this year’s disasters have prompted interest in establishing more analog networks.
Henderson recalled how the snowstorm left her virtually cut off from resources in town and without power for nearly two weeks.
“It really opened our eyes up to how not prepared were,” she said.
Though phones were also down for many in Dorena, certain residents were able to call others within the area depending on their phone number prefix.
“All the people that still had 946 could call other 946 people,” said Henderson. “The phone threw us for a loop because I grew up out here and we’ve lived out here quite a while. That’s the first time we’ve lost the phone.”
Dorena resident Jesse Gray, too, was surprised at the degree of unreadiness. While he recalled instances of locals patrolling the rural roads looking for people to help, Gray felt the community could be stronger.
“You know, there are a lot of people who don’t know their neighbors,” he said, recommending, “Know your neighbor so that if something like that happens again, you can go check on your neighbors.”
For Dorena’s newly formed grassroots emergency response group, Henderson envisions blocks of eight to 10 households within walking distance forming connections that will obligate them to network with each other during a disaster — but a full emergency response plan has yet to be developed.
“What I want to do is get people to start thinking,” Henderson said. “I want to do [a meeting] on alternative energy, maybe some solar.”
The first two meetings have allowed organizers to collect contact information of some 60 local residents and Henderson and Gray would like to see the project expanded in quantity and quality.
“I would love to find out who has medical training, who has fire fighter training,” said Henderson. “I know we have quite a few ham radio operators up here.”
Even with the little done so far, Gray said the Dorena community seems to be that much more connected and prepared for the next disaster.
“I think we’ve woken up some people so that they’d go around and check on other people,” said Henderson.
Despite having an organized community response team, however, certain emergencies will be beyond the average person’s control. For Dorena residents, fires pose a particular problem.
“If your house catches fire up here, it burns,” said Gray.
Fires occur in Dorena and the surrounding area with some frequency. Many residents expressed concern last year when three households went up in flames and SLCFR protected Dorena School, but seemed to make less effort to protect the houses.
According to a statement released by SLCFR at the time, the fire was contained to 12 acres.
“SLCFR response included resources from North Douglas Fire EMS and Goshen-Pleasant Hill Fire,” the statement read. “The Dorena area is not protected by a structural agency.”
As part of an agreement with the South Lane School District, SLCFR provided structural protection to Dorena School. Three structures, several outbuildings and vehicles were burned in the fire.
While the ambulance service area is about 800 square miles, SLCFR’s fire service area is only around 132 square miles, meaning Dorena residents fall outside the fire district.
To address this, SLCFR has begun offering rural residents a “fire suppression agreement” which would guarantee a response if they pay a tax of $1.85 per $1,000 of property value, as reported by residents.
“As of now, we’re up to 33 contracts,” said Division Chief Smith.
Though this offer may be attractive for some, others are skeptical about response times.
“…that it would take them a half hour to get here, which is too late to save a house on fire anyway,” said resident Dan Holt on the Twilight Bark page.
Holt and fellow Dorena resident Cal Swanson both live on Row River Road. Both have also recently purchased their own fire trucks in response to fire concerns in the area.
Swanson’s 1986 Brush truck was bought off surplus site govdeals.com this spring.
“It will sit there protecting my property and if I see smoke around, I may respond and if someone asks me to, I will certainly respond,” said Swanson.
The truck came fully functional and Swanson estimates its capable of shooting water from its 500-gallon tank about 100 feet.
Holt’s engine, however, needed a little more repair. The 1962 Ford fire engine had been stashed away for years, rusting on the coast. Just getting the water flowing was a chore.
“We shoveled about 75 pounds of rust and dirt out of it,” Holt said. “We’ve got most everything fixed on it now to where it’s going to be useable in another month.”
The old Ford has a water capacity of about 500 gallons as well.
With two engines about to be fit to operate in the area, Swanson and Holt are now on the lookout for volunteers. Besides needing people to simply be on call to get the trucks in an emergency, the fire engines are optimally operated with a two-man team.
“You really need one person to operate the pump and another person to hold the hose,” Holt said.
While some volunteers have stepped forward to help with engine mechanics, more are needed for operation. So far two people have showed up to Swanson’s for training.
“I would love to have 20 people that knew how to start the truck, move the truck, stop the truck, turn on the pump and handle the hose,” said Swanson. “I could probably teach how to start the truck, engage the pump and spray 500 gallons out if it in about 30 minutes.”
Holt cited his own age as the main reason for needing volunteers.
“I’m 78 years old. I’m really too old to be lugging hoses around — but I’ll try,” he said.
(In the next installment of our special series, we’ll explore the challenges of maintaining a group of trained citizens, the question of liability, and staying in communication without infrastructure. We will also identify future threats to the Cottage Grove area and answer the question: "Are We Ready?")