In the event of a major disaster, citizens of the Key Peninsula will not immediately be able to count on forces of government or military, fire department, or law enforcement.
“I would love to be able to reassure all of you that the problems and chaos you’ve been watching on TV would never happen here, but I would be lying. In fact, I’m often amazed, as I discuss emergency preparedness, to hear citizens talk about their high expectations for government to respond in a widespread disaster,” said Steven Bailey, director of Emergency Management for Pierce County.
When asked about disaster preparedness on the KP, Hugh McMillan, long active with Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Committee (PEP-C) said, “YO-YO. Yep, YO-YO. ‘You’re On Your Own.’ This is why emergency managers keep trying to tell us they won’t be there. That we are to plan to be self-sufficient for at least the first three days. You noticed that it was three or four days before any help arrived in the Gulf…Some people were very upset about that…Here is the deal: You are responsible for yourself and your family. Your neighborhood should then check on each other and offer aid. Get your neighborhood organized for this purpose. Next, your neighborhood should report in to the local first responders and emergency operations center as to your status and needs.”
Gretchen O’Connor, PC-NET community program educator, said, “A major focus by Pierce County Department of Emergency Management is on public education. We are having great success with a program called Pierce County Neighborhood Emergency Teams (PC-NET). The focus of this program is in training neighbors to put together an emergency response plan and thereby become able to respond to needs… in their own neighborhood. In essence, it’s neighbors helping neighbors to help themselves… There are mutual aid agreements in place with corresponding jurisdictional agencies.”
O’Connor added, ”I find that the citizens of the Key Peninsula have had a sensible approach to preparedness, and have surpassed the recommended three-day (72-hour) supply of essentials.” She offered this advice. “Past events (significant ice, wind storms that left them without power for days) have taught them that five days, or even two weeks’ worth of supplies, is a better idea. The bad news is that we cannot get to every single person when disaster strikes to treat their wounds. The good news is that we can teach them to meet their own needs by having a response plan in place and training citizens to help each other until the professional responders can get there. The best news is that there is no fee for this program to be delivered in the community. It’s a program of empowerment that provides training and tools to help people come together with a common goal, to save lives, reduce property damage and free up the first responders.”
Bailey said PC-NET is “the single most successful program” he has seen in his more than 30-year career in public safety, and that the dedication of the community to this training will allow emergency personnel to respond to people who will need help the most.
“Local first responders will attempt to respond to life and death emergencies if you can get word to them,” McMillan said. “Local Emergency Operations Center, in communication with county and state emergency operations, will evaluate the status of the area, according to local reports, and make plans to allocate resources. Resources are allocated according to the greatest need, concentration of people, and business centers. A school full of kids is a priority. A mall full of shoppers is a priority. A business center is important for the community in supplies and jobs.”
It is a fact that homes are low on the list. “Life trumps property,” McMillan said.
“County and state emergency responders will begin response. The state’s governor declares a state of emergency — if asked. This will clear the way for federal help and money. The Federal Emergency Management Agency makes a plan to aid an area in response to the governor’s request. FEMA responds. FEMA, federal troops and other outside agencies cannot come into an area unless requested by that state. The president is not going to land Marine One in your back yard to bring you water. You bring your water…Clean water is the one most essential item everywhere,” McMillan said. “YO-YO.”
For information on Pierce County Neighborhood Emergency Teams (PC-NET), call 798-2751.
Local radio station KGHP is the only radio station for emergency broadcast to the Key Pen. This will be the only means of communication that emergency services has with the public during a disaster. KGHP, broadcasting from Peninsula High School, is linked out of the emergency center for specific response to emergencies. It is equipped for continued broadcast during power outages. KGHP can be heard at 89.9, 89.3, and 104.5 FM.