ALERT aims to help residents prepare

Disaster preparedness may not be anyone’s idea of a good time, but Langley officials want people to know how to respond to an earthquake, flood, extended severe weather, fire or other emergency.

The first response depends on individuals, according to Langley Mayor Tim Callison, as the city prepares to launch a disaster preparedness program.

The new program called ALERT, the acronym for Advanced Langley Emergency Response Team, is aimed specifically at helping residents help themselves until organized assistance arrives.

“We’ve shamelessly borrowed most of the material from the very active and well-operating program in Coupeville,” Callison said. “We want people to be ready to take care of themselves and neighbors for several days if necessary. The program relies heavily on neighborhood organization and personal preparation.”

Callison said ALERT is specific to the one square mile of Langley city limits and its population of 1,170 people. But he quickly points out the program is flexible enough to provide assistance for outlying areas.

“We fully expect that people would migrate to the city for services in a major emergency,” he observed.

“The program comes in response to a greater awareness of potential emergency situations,” Callison said. “For example, we know more now than ever about the possibility of earthquakes. Our island geography means gaps in services are possible and we want to enable individuals to rely on themselves and their neighbors.”

ALERT divides Langley into 12 zones, based loosely on traditional neighborhood lines. The city will identify “zone leaders” and provide training to map locations and determine resources. Callison said the zone lines can be adjusted if necessary.

The program follows a top-down model which starts at the individual level. The structure carries on through neighborhood, city and local inter-agency services to county and state resources. Institutional relief responders, such as Red Cross, follow as requested and needed.

“We’re suggesting that individuals and households be prepared for up to 10 days without government services,” Callison said. “That includes such things as food and water storage, protection from weather, essential prescription drugs, pet care and ability to assist others.”

Preparation can include the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, training provided by Island County Emergency Management. Dave and Debbie Stoetzel have done the training. They said every islander could benefit from the classes which emphasize self preparation.

“CERT really encourages you to think critically about being ready for an emergency,” Dave Stoetzel said.

Callison also suggested that residents have an emergency kit in their cars and homes. Complete packages are available from online retailers and sporting goods stores for about $125. Otherwise, Red Cross and Emergency Management can provide a list and people can make their own kit. Home preparation might include non-perishable food supplies.

The fact that Langley is on an island presents some unusual considerations, Callison said. A closure of Highway 525 would severely disrupt north-to-south travel. Likewise, Deception Pass Bridge is a very important transportation and communication link.

A working dock at Langley is an advantage, along with space at Island County Fairgrounds for community shelters, according to Callison. Buried lines from Whidbey Telecom could provide reliable communication if something happens to cell towers. The Air Park on Crawford Road and the fairgrounds can be used for helicopters.

Langley’s senior population may have special needs.

“Our average age is 58,” Callison said. “People need to consider how an emergency would impact medical devices and prescription drug supplies.”

Langley’s mayor said ALERT gets a lot of benefit for little money: “We’ve spent a couple of thousand dollars so far for literature, and we have about $15,000 in allocated reserves. We have new automatic propane generators in city hall and the city-owned library building next door. The real work involves supporting volunteers to help people to take care of themselves and their neighbors.”

Callison said the disaster response program also relies on working agreements with other agencies such as Port of South Whidbey, South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Island County Sheriff, Good Cheer and Senior Services.

Island County Emergency Management is at dem@co.island.wa.us or 360-679-7370. More information on CERT is available at http://www.islandcert.org/. To learn more about ALERT, contact Langley City Hall at frontdesk@langley.org or 360-221-4246.

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