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Emergency planning on the island does not stop at the virus


Nobody wants to think about what could happen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and how an earthquake, major fire or landslide could leave island families without food or shelter, with few resources to roam around the 11,000 residents who live in Vachon.

“Everyone imagines that with an earthquake, the big problem will be the interest in rescue operations, trying to get the injured to hospital immediately, and this kind of emergency response,” said Rick Wallace, vice president of Vashon Be Prepared. “But the enormous challenge will be the second emergency, which – just like a pandemic – takes care of our community.”

Emergency management

Smoke from bushfires from Oregon still hanging over the Puget Sound – a health emergency in itself – at the time of publication is the latest reminder that Vashon, with limited healthcare and relying only on ferries to reach the mainland, is not at risk from the forces The larger is nature and potential natural disasters. And the threat of such an event at a truly delicate time is as real as ever. Meanwhile, although many islanders have returned to work since the inception of Governor Inslee’s stay-at-home order, nearly 600 remain out of work, and questions loom over basic necessities such as food security and housing for those who are not in. Any situation to deal with the effects of another emergency.

It is not possible to create a mentoring plan for every emergency scenario that is always beneficial to trained volunteers and emergency workers, Wallace said, because every situation is different.

“Good emergency management means you apply basic principles to solve problems [that arise]He said, “We’ve been training for years and years on what to do about an earthquake or a landslide or, you know, some other serious natural disaster, and we’ve got a pandemic.”

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated in March and has been busy ever since, responding to the pandemic with the mission to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community, in collaboration with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR). But Wallace said the team realized there was more than just keeping people healthy: A simultaneous crisis emerged, with the pandemic bringing devastating social and economic consequences. Older Vachon residents found themselves isolated at home. Big jobs and business losses fell as schools were ordered to close.

Everything that VashonBe prepared volunteers do each month, and have learned over the years, have helped direct their approach to the island’s competing needs during the pandemic, from health and safety to access to food, shelter and economic recovery, Wallace said. A reserve has been set aside to ensure that islanders without health insurance are able to test for the virus locally. The EOC Medical Reserve Corps now tests an average of 55 people each week (Editor’s note: See this week’s COVID-19 Pandemic Status Report on page 8 of this issue for more information.) A $ 325,000 relief fund created through His private donations mean the organization can buy more than 12,000 meals and 1,700 bags of groceries, deliver many of them to homes and neighborhoods, and provide direct assistance to families in the form of rent relief and other aid. Some costs – the biggest of which are food and shelter – are paid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the fund is running out.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has also partnered with existing social service providers on the island and the Chamber of Commerce on Fashion Mori Island to strengthen existing community support networks. Doing so, Wallace said, drives the resilience that will be necessary later in the post-emergency recovery.

“It was very important that the island’s social service agencies and our business community got out of this,” Wallace said. “If you think of something bad happening on top of an epidemic, these people are the ones we will need. Think of trying to respond to a really bad natural disaster without a woodland garden or a hardware store or a pharmacy or a bank. All of these things, the school district, are all fundamental to our community’s ability to function. Resilience is the name of the game when it’s a really bad day. ”

Training for disaster

Come on, Vicki de Monterrey Richaux, President of VashonBePrepared, said that in her view, the group’s monthly emergency response exercises, including the Cascadia earthquake disaster regional drills conducted in 2016, were a tremendous asset in preparing for other disasters. , Even now simultaneously focusing on the epidemic.

“Understanding the structure of the accident control system, training people on that system, and greatly understanding their role, as well as having key relationships with each other and with people outside of our group, was a huge boon to get to the ground,” she said.

But it is an impossibly difficult task for even the most experienced personnel of a disaster response agency to handle multiple disasters simultaneously.

De Monterrey Richaux said people should think in advance about augmenting their supplies and whether they can imagine themselves living independently off the grid during a power outage, or with disconnection or internet access. Moreover, the existing connections linking neighborhoods on the island correlate well with general preparedness. Studies have shown that neighbors help each other for the first three days after a disruptive incident because first responders are overwhelmed.

Vashon Ferry Dock after wildfire smoke started to move into the area (Paul Rowley / Staff Photo).

“Mutual assistance is a big part of a community like Vashon. It’s ideal for types of mutual aid experiences, where people get to know their neighbors well enough to trust them, get to know them by face and call each other for help when the going gets tough.”

As the nation sees devastating fires spin out of control at the top and bottom of the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest seemingly every year, de Monterrey Richaux said more islanders are wondering where to go if the island is to witness wildfires. It is a grim prospect. Although there haven’t been any major work fires on the island this season, the fire hazard is set to a high level in Vashon, and last week, King County Fire Marshal Chris Ricketts issued a county stage 2 burn ban, which bans all recreational fires in the air. The fire, after the National Weather Service issued a warning about the danger of a red flag fire in northwest Washington.

Islander Derek Churchill, a forest health scientist with the Natural Resources Department of Western Australia, told The Beachcomber that last Tuesday’s heavy winds that brought down branches and power lines on the island worried enough about the possibility that it could ignite and cause a wildfire in Fashon. But he stressed that the possibility of forest fires in Fashon is not as great as it is where the destructive fires are burning, due to the different wind patterns and conditions on the ground there. He said that even if there was an ignition source causing a fire on the island without strong easterly winds, firefighters would have no problem extinguishing the fire.

But looking to the future, no one can correctly predict whether climate change will increase the frequency of wildfires in western Washington.

He said, “That’s the really big question.” And honestly, we know climate change will make things warmer and drier. We don’t know if climate change will increase the frequency of these wind events. ”

ready or not

How do people safely move away from the danger they need? De Monterey Richoux said that last year, VashonBePrepared and VIFR began thinking about how to address the wildfire emergency occurring on the island. VIRF Sheriffs and First Responders will be needed to coordinate the evacuation if needed and direct the response to protect life and property.

If a fire blocks an area like the Gold Beach neighborhood, for example, Marine Aid may be able to clear a path for residents, and firefighting crews can be brought in from outside the island to help put out the fires again, De Monterrey Richaux for example when several companies are brought in. For help after a propane vapor explosion at Vashon Energy in 2016.

De Monterrey Richaux said personal preparedness is one of the best paths of action that islanders can take to be prepared, as is staying in contact with family members, and following an eviction order if presented.

It is also recommended to stay up-to-date with emergency alerts. More information is available online at

For VIFR Fire Chief and EOC Incident Leader Charlie Krimmert, there is a lot to appreciate about how Vashon has come together to deal with the Coronavirus. He indicated how EOC volunteers registered more than 14,000 hours of support to operations that allocate resources to VashonBePrepared priorities. Kremert added that Vachon’s low infection rate compared to the rest of the county – currently one-seventh of King County as a whole – is lucky.

But in his opinion, working with the county might be easier, i.e. getting needed supplies to Vashon when they are available. To this end, Kremert said they are working to improve communications and supply lines between the island and county agencies such as the Local Services Administration. Krimmert said they are working on an idea that includes a road division where trucks already heading to the island can haul supplies if road crews are on their way.

Any help from the county can help get the island back on its feet more quickly than without it, but if the ground starts to shake and Vachon finds itself cut off from the mainland, the islanders will either be prepared for whatever happens next, or they are, Kremert said.

“I think we got two extremes on the island … There is no real middle ground. So we hope to know when everything will break.” [one] We are, whether we are all prepared or not. ”

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