Hey Oregon … are you prepared?

Well, chalk up another one!  We finished up our CERT Train-the-Trainer class today.  We have really enjoyed working with 32 terrific trainers from across the country.  At the end of the day, the class collectively gave each instructor a personalized “Thank-you” card signed by every student in class.  On the cover of the card is a pen-and-ink drawing of the “Fallen Firefighter’s Monument” that resides on campus.  While it’s always an unexpected honor to receive gifts of appreciation from our students, this one carries a little extra because the artist, Jane Dierickx, is originally from my home state of Michigan.

Have you ever been to Oregon?

This week we had in our class seven students representing the State of Oregon .  Now, I’ve never been to Oregon, put would love to visit.  I understand it’s another gorgeous state in our great country.  It was funny, but earlier this morning at breakfast one of our Oregon students stopped me and told me she had enjoyed reading my previous blog posts this week, but asked me why, with seven students in class from Oregon, I hadn’t chosen to write about her state yet.  I told her it was very simple … I was waiting to speak with her!  At the end of the day, we sat down with her six “neighbors” and chatted about what’s going on in Oregon with respect to CERT and citizen preparedness.

In the state government organizational structure, CERT is a program that is managed by the state’s Citizen Corps Coordinator, who is part of the Office of Emergency Management, which reports in to the Oregon Military Department.

The state faces a large menu of natural risks.  Flooding is one of the more frequent significant risks.  Other risks include earthquakes, winter storms, tsunami (Pacific Ocean), and even volcanos (Mt. St. Helens) to name a few.  There are also many manmade risks the state faces including bridges.  Bridges are critical to the state due to the many stream and rivers in the state.  Bridges are critical for transportation within the state and should key bridges become inaccessible (perhaps due to flooding) ingress and egress will be negatively affected.

A large portion of the population (approximately 1.75M of the states 2.5M) live in the area that’s referred to as the I-5 corridor that runs from north to south across the state on the western side.  Other parts of the state are considered to be rural.

When it comes to citizen preparedness the state has a few initiatives underway, some with greater success than others.  One initiative that seems to be working well is “Map Your Neighborhood” (MYN).  MYN is a simple idea.  Neighbors gather at a home in the neighborhood for a 90-minute meeting where they learn the 9-steps to take immediately following disaster.  Together they develop a neighborhood skills and equipment inventory.  They learn where the gas meters are in the case of a landslide or earthquake where gas lines may break.  Most importantly, during the MYN gathering, neighbors meet neighbors and together they think through what they might need to do in a large-scale disaster when 911 might not be able to send help.  They learn to be self-reliant as a neighborhood, to organize effectively and to help neighbors in need, so the community’s emergency responders can attend to the large rescues and the ongoing restoration of services.

CERT is experiencing various stages of success across the state.  In some of the larger metropolitan areas (like in Eugene) it is being promoted and well received.  However, in some of the smaller, remote, and rural communities’ acceptance of CERT has been challenging, to say the least.  When I asked my new friends what they hoped to realize when they take back what they’ve learned this week, they agreed they would like to retain the volunteers they currently have, engage new volunteers, and finally sustain their programs long term.  Additionally, they said they would like to ensure they have more committed buy-in from their various stakeholders.

Funding always seems to be an issue when we are talking about the development and sustainment of programs like CERT and MYN.  Every class I’ve taught around the country I’ve heard this common concern.  Although Oregon received approximately $5.04M in Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG) and $2.8M in State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grants, funding remains an issue for these programs.

A couple of ideas that came out of the conversation we shared today was for FEMA to develop a State Program Manager’s Awareness campaign that would include a series of webinars with state CERT/Citizen Corps coordinators to help create greater awareness of CERT and the benefits that may be realized by offering CERT training.  Additionally, our students are talking about establishing small networking opportunities that will allow these folks to obtain guidance and ideas.

And so, I’ll leave you with this … it’s a video posted on YouTube that one of the Oregon CERT teams was involved with regarding the Sandy River Flood media coverage of the event Sandy River Flood.

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