Community Affected by Multiple Disasters Takes Action to Prepare Before Disasters Strikes Again
Elko County in northeast Nevada had a tough year in 2008. In addition to increased wildfire activity in the region due to its serious drought, a magnitude six earthquake struck Wells, a rural community in Elko County with more than 18,000 residents. After this series of events, community leaders in Elko County recognized the importance of preparing residents before the next disaster strikes.
Last spring, northeast Nevada’s first responders, schools, hospitals, Citizen Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), subject matter experts, government officials, and residents joined the millions of participants in registered preparedness activities in collaboration with the spring 2015 America’s PrepareAthon!SM They effectively prepared for natural and manmade disasters with drills, preparedness classes, and panel discussions highlighting the potential hazards in the region, including floods, earthquakes, drought, and wildfires.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts participated in the Pillowcase Project on April 10, 2015, at Spring Creek Elementary.
Inspiring Youth Preparedness
The Northeast Nevada CERT program under the Elko County Sheriff’s Office launched the PrepareAthon! with outreach efforts and classes to engage youth and young adults in the region. Mary Ann Laffoon, Citizen Corps/CERT coordinator, organized all of their outreach efforts.
From March 26 to 28, 2015, more than 380 third, fourth, and fifth grade students of Spring Creek Elementary in Spring Creek, NV, participated in the Pillowcase Project, an American Red Cross disaster preparedness education program that teaches students about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills for recovering from the psychological effects of disasters. On April 10, 2015, Laffoon partnered with Darcy Schumacher and the American Red Cross to present the Pillowcase Project to 50 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at Spring Creek Elementary.
Nursing students at Great Basin College completed a CERT training program on April 2, 2015.
Besides a focus on children, CERT reached out to high school and college students. On April 2, 2015, the CERT program led a training session for second-year nursing students at Great Basin College in Elko, NV. The class integrated the CERT training into its clinical program, and the school plans to offer it again in 2016. CERT taught an emergency preparedness class for 20 students at West Wendover High School on April 20, 2015, with an emphasis on earthquakes and wildfires.
“When I teach emergency or disaster preparedness, or conduct a CERT training or other outreach, I tell people—not only youth but anyone that comes to class—that I’m giving them a life skill,” says Laffoon. “Everything that I teach, I direct toward what people can use.”
Getting Social with NevadaAthon!
On April 30, in support of America’s PrepareAthon!, the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management and the Elko, Reno, and Las Vegas offices of the National Weather Service hosted a panel discussion, titled NevadaAthon!, at the state’s emergency operations center in Carson City, NV.
Local and regional agency partners gathered to hear presentations from five subject matter experts on Nevada’s top hazards: flood, earthquake, drought, and wildfire. Each speaker discussed the specifics about a disaster, what to do to be safe and mitigate damage, how to take action to increase preparedness, and how to participate in community resilience planning.
NevadaAthon! panelists from left: Bob Roper, state forester, Division of Forestry; Jason King, state engineer, Division of Water Resources; Rob Palmer, state floodplain manager and National Flood Insurance Program coordinator, Division of Water Resources; Dr. Graham Kent, director for seismological sciences, professor for the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering at University of Nevada, Reno; and Chris Smallcomb, meteorologist, Reno office of the National Weather Service.
In addition to fielding questions from the audience, the panelists responded to community members who posed questions to the panelists via Facebook and Twitter. During the NevadaAthon!, social media analytics reported that more than 4,300 people engaged by views, mentions, contributing questions to the panelists, as well as sharing and retweeting posts about preparedness.
Gail E. Powell, public information officer with the Nevada Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, organized the event logistics and social media outreach. In preparation for the event, Powell posted information about a specific hazard each week on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote America’s PrepareAthon! and generate awareness about each hazard.
“This venue gave us a perfect opportunity to push America’s PrepareAthon! out to the public,” says Powell, “educate them on its intended purpose, how it can benefit them by getting involved and contributing their ideas and suggestions.”
During the City of Elko’s PrepareAthon! the Elko Fire Department simulated a tanker vehicle gas leak as part of the community wide drill on June 1, 2015
Shaking Things Up in the City of Elko
The City of Elko hosted a PrepareAthon! on June 1, 2015. More than 150 residents in the City of Elko participated in a communitywide drill simulating a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. The drill involved city officials, CERT, the American Red Cross, first responders, and the Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital. Brian Burgess, emergency manager and deputy chief with the Elko Fire Department, coordinated the exercise with Bill Kuhn, former community preparedness officer with FEMA Region IX.
During the drill, Burgess and his team staged multiple exercises across the community that occurred simultaneously, including a simulated structure collapse during which first responders rescued survivors from piles of debris. In a nearby shopping area, the city performed an active shooter drill to test the resilience of its 911 call center, as well as its local police officers and special weapons and tactics team.
“It takes a lot of coordination and work to make a drill or exercise happen, and the City of Elko clearly was motivated to make something happen,” says Kuhn. “I was really impressed to see a community of their size, where they are located, be so driven around preparedness.”