Kyle Jensen / The Record — Greg Parkinson demonstrates when downed power lines could potentially electrocute someone.

Planning for the worst at the emergency prep fair

Ash fell from the sky earlier this week in Western Washington, and much of the Texas Gulf Coast was submerged in around 50 inches of rain before Hurricane Harvey petered out. To add insult to injury, the category 5 Hurricane Irma headed toward Florida is said to be the most powerful Atlantic storm recorded.

The recent environmental disasters are a reminder that emergency preparation is important as ever, a message that was clear in the Safety and Emergency Prep Fair Wednesday afternoon.

“I’d say the majority of people in Island County aren’t as prepared as they should be,” Eric Brooks, Island County’s director of emergency management, said. “It used to be suggested that people in Western Washington be prepared for three days on your own, but now it’s 14 days. That’s because it’s harder to get materials sent here due to our location.”

The annual fair, put on by Puget Sound Energy in its Freeland location, was scheduled to coincide with National Preparedness Month. Preparation was the general theme of the day, as a litany of organizations and government agencies brought representatives to discuss what they do, the dos and don’ts in the face of an emergency and how to best prepare.

Puget Sound Energy brought organizations that would be involved in an emergency. Red Cross, South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Island County Amateur Radio Club and Island County Emergency Management were all present to hand out information and talk about general safety and emergency prep with guests. Topics covered included what to do with downed power lines, how to set up an emergency plan and what would happen if power and ICOM dispatch were down.

According to Walt Blackford, Puget Sound Energy’s South Whidbey outreach manager, the recent happening most likely increased awareness.

“The recent events has probably caused a heightened level of consciousness toward emergency preparation, but it doesn’t change how we prepare,” Blackford said. “It never loses importance. The more people are prepared, the better off everybody will be.”

Puget Sound Energy officials discussed what Whidbey is most prone to: downed power lines. Company representative Greg Parkinson gave demonstrations using plastic toys and electrical currents to illustrate when not to go near downed lines and also stressed to always call 911 and Puget Sound Energy before doing anything else.

Island County Amateur Radio Club members discussed how they provide a backup form of communication in case ICOM dispatch, the internet and cell phone reception go out. The organization is currently on the ground in the Texas Gulf Coast assisting local agencies in rescue operations and would do the same in the case of a large natural even on Whidbey.

“We have a capability and multiple ways of connecting people,” said Vince Bond, public information officer for the organization. “Basically, we’re the last resort if something goes wrong.”

Representing the county’s Emergency Management Department, Brooks encouraged visitors to use the county’s emergency preparation app. The app streamlines the process of figuring out what one needs to do in order to sufficiently prepare for a large event that could strand Whidbey residents, such as an earthquake or tsunami. After entering in how many people are in your family, how many pets you have, etc, the app makes suggestions regarding quantities of water and food one should store. It also devises a plan for where to meet loved ones in case of an emergency and which agencies to have on speed dial.

According to Brooks, the large event he wants Whidbey Island to prepare for, if any, is a massive earthquake.

“We like to push preparedness for that big earthquake that could potentially happen,” Brooks said. “It’d impact power, water, medical aid, our whole system. If you’re prepared for that, you’ll be prepared for most other situations.”