No time like present to prepare for what we hope never hits

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2000

Most of us live as if "it" will never happen to us -- "it," of course, being any major disaster.

We can be grateful, however, there are those whose job it is to hope for the best but to plan for the worst. By necessity, that planning involves lots of training.

Earlier this month, 46 people took part in an emergency response plan training course, sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. The course brought together a cross-section of the central peninsula community, all of whom might be pressed into service during a disaster. The diverse group included fire and police personnel, borough employees, representatives from such agencies as The Salvation Army and Red Cross, and members of the borough's Local Emergency Planning Committee.

The training included a mock disaster: a propane leak that forced an evacuation.

Ironically, the week after the mock disaster, just such an incident occurred in Seward. Only 30 gallons of propane leaked in the real incident. Nevertheless, it prompted a precautionary evacuation and road closure for a short time.

The point is: The Kenai Peninsula is no stranger to disaster. We've experienced enough earthquakes, wildfires, volcanoes and human-caused emergencies from oil spills to chlorine leaks to chemical blasts to realize it can happen here.

How close we live to danger was reinforced last month in a new study that revealed shallow, hidden faults beneath Cook Inlet could cause damaging earthquakes in the area more frequently than previously thought.

A glimpse at our beetle-killed forests hints at the fire disaster that looms all around us.

Lingering memories of the fire that destroyed the Icicle Seafoods processing plant in Homer after an ammonia leak fueled an explosion remind us of the dangers involved in the peninsula's industrial base.

Last winter's avalanches that closed the peninsula's road link to Anchorage was a good lesson in the importance of individual emergency preparedness.

While the potential for disaster is ever present, the good news is that there are people who aren't waiting for "if" disaster strikes, they are planning for "when."

The recent training course at the borough is one example.

The borough's Project Impact work is another. Central peninsula residents have seen the FireWise program at work clearing beetle-killed trees to help mitigate fire damage should one start.

Project Impact also has provided materials to the school district to protect school computers -- as well as people -- in the event of an earthquake. A strap linking two toggle clips restrains a computer, preventing it from becoming a projectile during a quake. In addition to retrofitting computers against seismic topples, Project Impact funds are being used to stabilize overhead lights.

Groups like Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc. have regular drills to be prepared for what everyone hopes will never happen, as do the industrial plants in the area. In fact, Unocal is adding another dimension to its training. Later this year, the company plans a "human factors response program" to be better equipped to deal with people's needs in the event of a crisis.

Like a dress rehearsal, all the training and preparedness will help a response in real times of emergency go all the more efficiently and effectively. Chaos won't reign, because there's been an opportunity to practice a coordinated response between multiple agencies.

The bottom line is: Borough residents will be much better off when disaster does strike because of the training that's gone on before.

That, however, is no cause for individuals to be complacent about the potential for disaster. As the experts continue to train and be prepared, every peninsula household should take stock and ask itself if it's prepared to weather an emergency.

There's no time like the present for such preparation. After all, if you and your household are prepared for the worst, then anything that happens that's not the worst will seem minor or, at least, manageable by comparison.

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