The art of being prepared | Editorial

San Juan County residents are passionate about disaster preparedness.

And we are much more likely to survive isolation from the mainland with just a little bit of foresight.

Last March, more than 150 people gathered in the Sea View Theatre to learn about ways to get ready for a catastrophe in our rural communities. It was organized by Orcas resident Natalie Menacho and facilitated by Brendan Cowan, director of the San Juan County Department of Emergency Management.

In response to that turnout, Menacho and Cory Harrington started Be Ready Orcas, a volunteer group that offers meetings on community resilience. Monthly offerings began in December and have been very well attended.

The most recent session was Feb. 13 about Orcas Fire and Rescue’s role in disaster response. The meeting was held right after a snowstorm that left many home-bound for days.

OIFR has seven stations across the island with station 21 in Eastsound as headquarters. In the event of an emergency, the neighborhood fire station is intended to become station command. For coverage of that event, see page one. To sign up for Be Ready Orcas meeting updates, visit

Though the islands are safe from regular weather-related disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, they are more susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis. Many in our area are aware of the “big one,” a highly anticipated earthquake expected to surpass a 9.0 on the Richter scale. A quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone has the potential to affect everyone along the West Coast, from Orcas down to San Francisco.

During an outage caused by an earthquake, power could potentially be out for several weeks. It is imperative for residents to have food, water and other necessities (including for pets) stockpiled to last them for at least two weeks following a disaster. It’s also important to have a 30-day supply of essential medications and a way to cook, a way to stay warm in an extended power outage and a disaster plan with neighbors.

The DEM has helpful materials online at and are very willing to send staff to talk to neighborhoods, businesses, churches or any group of islanders looking for some direction and help with preparing.

Next month, the DEM and Economic Development Council are teaming up to present a training on disaster preparedness for small businesses. This concise class will provide basic information about the risks to the islands and will offer some simple tools and approaches to help businesses prepare. They will be held on Tuesday, March 26, 8:30-10:30 a.m., Heritage Bank, 535 Market St., Friday Harbor and 1:30-3:30 p.m., Orcas Island Library, 500 Rose Street, Eastsound. In order to participate, register online at:

We applaud islanders for their interest in planning for the worst, and their willingness to look out for both themselves and others.

As Cowan said at the March gathering, “If you’re not able to take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your community.”