In the event of a major emergency with widespread damage and impassable roads, KP residents could be on their own for weeks rather than days. Photo: Jim Bellamy

Port Orchard was hit by an EF-2 tornado Dec. 18, with winds estimated at 130 mph in the affected areas. The South Kitsap Fire Department was immediately flooded with calls for help. 

“It overwhelmed the 911 system and emergency responders,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Faucett. “Our dispatchers dispatched units from as far north as Port Gamble and as far south as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.” 

Zac Stephenson, 57, and her 12-year-old son Samuel, were among several families given shelter at the Westwynd Motel and Suites in Purdy through the Red Cross. Both are on disability.

Stephenson’s home is four miles from the path of the tornado, but damage to power poles left it without electricity for nearly two weeks. “It was the week before Christmas. We couldn’t find an electrician. Businesses were closing for the holidays. We had no place to go. There was nothing we could do. Westwynd stepped up,” she said. 

“We’re not talking about a five-star hotel, but they should be listed as a five-star. They had extra food and other things the victims needed. They made sure our rooms were cleaned every day. Because of Mindy Wilkins (who put them in touch with the Red Cross), Marilyn (in the front office) and the Westwynd staff, we were able to have a decent Christmas,” Stephenson said.

“In the initial 90 minutes of the incident we had several streets that had free-flowing natural gas,” Faucett said.“Our firefighters worked very hard to get people to evacuate. Some simply would not listen and chose to stay put or worse—passed through barricades to get to their property. We want to help people, but most importantly we need our space to work and not have to worry about people coming in and out of the area who should not be there.” 

Key Peninsula Battalion Chief Chuck West, in charge of emergency operations, said, “People on the KP are ahead of the game because of the frequency of events, power outages, wind storms. But they need to be prepared for a longer-term incident like an earthquake. They should be prepared to camp at home for up to three weeks. They should consider their animals, kids, medication for themselves, things outside the food realm.” 

KP Fire District Assistant Chief Hal Wolverton said, “When we participated in the Cascadia Rising (earthquake) preparation drill, we learned that KP Fire wasn’t truly prepared to maintain ourselves. People will be on their own for a period of time.”

Peggy Gablehouse is the emergency preparedness liaison for the Key Peninsula Civic Center. For the past several years, she has been working to have the Red Cross designate the civic center as a warming and cooling shelter in the event of an emergency. “The project was on hold until the generator could be installed,” she said. “Now that it’s up and working, we can move forward.” 

Gablehouse is planning to put a book together to centralize all local community resources that can be accessed when needed. “Someone has a tractor, another has chainsaws, someone else has things that others will need,” she said. 

The Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition, known as PEP-C, will host an Emergency Preparedness Fair on March 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Gig Harbor High School. “There will be vendors and live demonstrations. We’re planning 10 speakers in the morning and 10 in the afternoon,” to instruct on preparing for emergencies, Gablehouse said.

Faucett will be the speaker at the monthly emergency preparedness meeting in the Whitmore Room at the civic center, Feb. 21 at 7:00 p.m. 

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