Q: Does San Juan County really need a Department of Emergency Management?
A: If we're lucky, we'll never really need the Department of Emergency Management. Hopefully we'll never experience a 9.0 earthquake, a 1,500 acre wildfire, or an oil spill along our coast. That said, the possibility of it happening is real, and a little bit of preparation now can go a long way towards improving the islands' ability to plan for, respond to, and recover from disaster. We live in a place where we don't have to worry about hurricanes, river floods, or tornadoes- but there are risks that are worth paying attention to. See our Preparedness Page for more info.
On top of that, WA State required that all Counties and Towns have a designated emergency management agency.
Q: What exactly does the Department of Emergency Management do?
A: The Department of Emergency Management is not a response agency. We don't fight fires, rescue people from storms, or take people to the hospital- but we do work closely with the people who do. We're responsible for disaster planning for the county, and we operate the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a communications center activated in the event of a disaster. We help to organize post-disaster response and recovery efforts, and work with numerous groups within the county to build a coordinated approach to disaster response. The DEM also serves as the entry point into the county for much of the effort focused recently on Homeland Security. Again, our job is not to secure the homeland, but to help those whose job it is in any way we can. For more information, please don't hesitate to contact us directly.
Q: How will the general public be advised of information during or leading up to an emergency or disaster situation?
A: The single best means for obtaining information related to impending weather, evacuations, shelter information, or other important details is from the Emergency Alert System (EAS). For more information about the EAS and the required equipment to monitor EAS Recover, click HERE. Another great resource is the 211 phone line. Most time, 211 is a central access point to information on local social services and government agencies. Following a disaster, 211 can become a central information distribution point for info about shelters, feeding, government assistance, and other recovery programs.
Following a disaster, islanders should only call 911 for life threatening emergencies.
Q: Are there designated emergency shelters?
A: Yes, San Juan County has pre-determined Emergency (Red Cross) Shelters, but will distribute that information at the time of an incident. (Shelters are usually located in community centers, schools, churches and other large facilities.) We must first get the facility open and stocked before officially opening the shelter. The information will be given out on this web page, via radio and/or TV, local media, the 211 phone line, and possibly as an Emergency Alert System (EAS) Broadcast.
Q: What is the greatest danger we face here in San Juan County?
A: Disasters are by nature chaotic and unpredicatable, so it is impossible to quantify the risk to a point where we can say for certain what the greatest danger is. Here's what we can say:
1. San Juan County has experienced numerous winter storms over the decades that have crippled the islands for weeks at a time. While not cataclysmic, the wind and snow and ice that can come with a winter storm can leave the islands in dire straits.
2. During the dry months, almost all of San Juan County is located in an environment ripe for wildfire. We've been lucky in recent years, but the climate, terrain, vegetation, and housing patterns on the islands all point to the potential for wildfire.
3. Though extremely rare by the standards of a human lifetime, we live in a seismically active area, and are prone to both large earthquakes, and the resulting tsunamis.
Q: Can you tell me more about tsunamis? Is that really something I need to worry about?
A: Click here for our Tsunami Frequently Asked Questions Page.
Q: I'm worried about a potential terrorist attack, what can I do to prepare and are we really in danger here in San Juan County?
A: For more information on Terrorism Preparedness go to the Homeland Security Site at www.ready.gov. The answer to the second part of the question is a bit more complicated. There's no reason to think that at this point in time the San Juan Islands are a likely terrorist target, but there is still reason for concern. San Juan is a border county, and a relatively porous one at that. It has been postulated that someone wishing to enter the United States unseen might find San Juan County to be a particularly attractive route. The concern that arises is logical: if a terrorist where to pass through the islands (similar to Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam entering Port Angeles from Victoria in December of 1999), and something where to happen along the way, the islands could become an inadvertent target. The bottom line is that as in all aspects of emergency preparedness, an ounce of prevention can go a long way.
Q: What do I do with household hazardous waste within the County?
A: Please refer to San Juan County Public Works' frequently asked question sheet.
Q: How can I purify my drinking water in an emergency?
A: Tablets and filters to clean water can be purchased at most camping supply stores, such as REI, MEC, etc. Bleach is a great household remedy - 4 to 5 drops of bleach per gallon of water.
Q: Should I put together a disaster kit?
A: YES! We suggest you have a disaster supply kit in your house and another in your car - enough for seven days for each person. Water is very important - you will need a minimum of one gallon-per-person per day. Information on disaster kits can be found at the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) websites.
Q: Can you send me information on preparing?
A: Yes, we can mail or email you information on disaster preparedness . Send us your name and address, or e-mail addressand what areas of preparation you are specifically interested in. We can also send out speakers to address local groups and talk in person to you about disaster preparedness.
Q: What can we do to keep in touch with friends and family during a disaster?
A: Talk with your neighbors, family and friends to create a family disaster plan. Designate a prearranged meeting point, and don't count on phone service (cellular or landline) to be functioning.
Q: What is the Red Cross phone number?
A: The phone number for the San Juan County Red Cross is (360) 293-2911.