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Community Disaster Planning


 The other day I got a call from a resident who wanted to know what we had planned for disasters in the valley. The question was specific to the current discussion of the potential, or lack thereof, for catastrophic events related to mud, debris, and ash flows from volcanic activity on Mt Baker. I didn't really have a good response to address the concerns of this citizen, but it got me thinking about a broader range of issues that we should be discussing.

Without getting into the specifics of whose map of potential life threats is the most accurate or the need to restrict development in certain locations because of conditions, that may or may not occur, I would offer the following information to all of our residents and visitors.

There is risk in everything and everywhere! Here we are talking about massive, catastrophic events on a geologic scale, which of course could happen. On the risk evaluation matrix, I'd call it an extremely low probability, with extremely high consequence potential. The kind of thing that we need to think about, but is very unlikely to happen without some advance warning. When Mt. St Helen’s was starting to heat up, there were months of warning leading up to the evacuation of the surrounding communities. However some remained in the danger zone and lost their lives by not heeding the warnings, a tragedy to be sure, but one that was mostly avoidable. I strongly believe that, should Mt. Baker become more geologically active than it is currently, the local and regional scientific community will mobilize and deploy sensors and measuring equipment to monitor the situation, bringing a highly sophisticated arsenal to the area, much like what was done in the 1970's when Baker showed signs of activity. Volcanic related activity is just one obvious risk that is way down on the potential scale. More likely events are debris flows caused by severe weather conditions that could have a more targeted impact in specific locations. Most remember Boulder Creek closing the highway in the 1980's and Canyon Creek menacing Glacier Springs at the same time. Those types of events are much more likely to impact our community and, thus are the kind of events we should be prepared to deal with. More recently there was Oso, the tragic loss of an entire community in the blink of an eye, could that happen here? The possibility exists but our geology is much different (more stable), however just past Kendall you can see where many acres of earth slid off the side of the mountain a few years ago. Again, that was mostly due to a major rain event. There is geologic evidence of slides that have blocked the Nooksack River, the cause of which may have been seismic activity, so we've got a potential for earthquakes too. Remember the Deming earthquake of 5.2 in 1990? The risk of earthquakes in the northwest is the same as Southern California, so if you like to worry about all the possible ways for nature to wreak havoc on our community, there is plenty to keep you up at night. Let’s not forget human caused events while we’re at it!

So what should we do?

Be personally prepared, the first thing we all need to think about is what we'd need to survive if stranded or cut off. 

  • In your car keep a blanket, flashlight, first aid kit and fire extinguisher.
  • In your home, have a portable radio, batteries, food, medicine, and water to last for at least two weeks or more.
  • Know where the valves are for your gas and water, in case you need to shut them off.
  • Go to the following web site to see some recommendations for a disaster kit:                           
    • Make a list of what you'd take if you had to evacuate, remember you may only have a short time to collect your valuables and documents before being required to leave.

   Make a communication plan for your family and friends

  • Have one person who lives out of the area, who you all can contact, who will relay messages and information. When phone lines are down or the Internet is out, we have very few options to connect with each other, particularly when we are separated. Having everyone trying to send a message to just one person in a known location is the best option.
  • Have one phone in your house that can work without power. Often we lose power but the phone lines manage to stay in operation. 

   Stay informed

  • When weather forecasts call for extreme weather, heed the warnings and check your emergency supplies. Weather events are the most likely cause of life threat so therefore, the events we need to be prepared for. 
  • Follow directions of emergency works and road crews. 
  • Listen to the radio for information and forecasts. 
  • If you live near the river, plan an emergency escape route, away from the river. If there were to be a lahar, or sudden buildup of debris you may have to move to high ground quickly. Look for a path uphill and away from the water. It's far more likely that if you need to evacuate, there will be warning and direction on the best route to take, your task will be to quickly gather your evacuation list, personal items and get out.

   Be part of the solution not the problem.

  • Stay at least one full power line length, (from pole to pole) away from any tree or branch arching on the power lines.
  • Don't drive through moving water.
  • Offer shelter to those in need
  • Use caution and good sense when trying to move debris, let those who have the expertise do the chain saw work.
  • Ask emergency workers how you can help them
  • Never use barbeques, generators or anything that produces Carbon Monoxide indoors!!

 The local Fire department can help, in a true disaster the fire station (or local command post) will act as the center for information and response operations.

  • If unable to use the phone, go to the station for fire, medical aid, and rescue response.
  • The station has radio communications to the local and regional emergency management centers
  • The station can also offer shelter in emergencies, with power and lights.

Our Community has experienced several events that required all of us to come together to help our visitors and ourselves. Collectively we have a great depth of resources and talents. Depending on the situation, we will do our best to ensure public safety. The fact remains that there is potential for substantial events to overwhelm our ability to respond. That is why it is important that each of you have the ability to take care of yourselves. Being able to look after yourself and your family is the key to preparedness. I'd encourage all of you to stay informed on the actual hazards that we are faced with and make good decisions on how to care for yourselves. 

Ben Thompson, Chief

Glacier Fire & Rescue


360-599-2447 (Fire Station)


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