Laura Hall has several containers of water in her car, along with a pair of boots and changes of socks. More water is stored near the back door of her house, along with food she could eat if running water and electricity were disrupted.
She keeps another pair of boots and socks by her bed. She has camping gear in a backpack, along with a pry bar, an emergency blanket, a first aid kit and other things she might need if an earthquake or other event disrupted public services and communications systems.
Hall has accumulated emergency supplies over time and periodically replaces items with expiration dates. It’s part of her training as a leader in the Arbor Lodge-Kenton Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET).
The city has 74 active teams with members who have trained in basic emergency response practices, said Dan Douthit, public information officer for the Bureau of Emergency Management.
Some training is with the bureau and some with Portland Fire and Rescue, which includes search and rescue procedures. The fire bureau also teaches NET members how to perform medical triage, shut off utilities, and educate others about being prepared for emergencies. Multnomah County trains volunteers in radio communications, necessary if cell phone towers fall and other systems are disrupted.
Information about NETs, preparedness resources and emergency kits is at www.portlandoregon.gov.
Portland’s NET system began several years ago as a response to scientists’ warning that the west coast can expect a large quake from the 600-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches from northern California to southern British Columbia.
The last big quake occurred in 1700, according to scientific studies and accounts from Japan, which recorded effects of the tsunami that traveled across the Pacific Ocean following the big North America quake.
The precise time for the next big quake isn’t known, but scientists are aware of stresses building up as the Juan de Fuca and North American plates push against each other. Eventually, the movement of the two plates is expected to cause a large earthquake and tsunami.
The emergency management bureau began developing Neighborhood Emergency Teams several years ago and the New Yorker magazine published a story questioning local preparedness for a big quake in July 2015. That caught people’s attention, and more neighborhoods formed NETs.
Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus offers emergency preparedness courses, including a Saturday class taught each term by Hall. She advises participants to draw up a list of supplies needed for at least two weeks – she’s gradually accumulated what she needs for two months – then gather a few materials at a time so they don’t feel so overwhelmed that they give up.
“The better prepared I am, the less scared I am,” said Peggy Woolf, a retired nurse who has taken three PCC emergency preparation classes, including Hall’s. “This class is chock-full of information.”
A half-dozen Arbor Lodge-Kenton volunteers recently responded to a call for a night training session, with headquarters in Kenton Park. Kenny McElroy, a HAM radio operator and the other head of the NET with Hall, checked communications equipment with nearby neighborhoods and relayed messages from the field to Amy Reiter, the incident commander.
Hall, who developed the training exercise, periodically handed envelopes containing “incidents” to Reiter who opened them and communicated by radio with teams in the field: check smoke in an industrial area, get a chainsaw for downed trees blocking a road, see if a shipping container at Ockley Green Middle School includes emergency supplies for nearby neighborhoods.
Taffy Everts, a NET volunteer for two years, was an emergency responder in California before moving to Portland. Volunteers in California and most parts of Oregon use the acronym CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) but it is pronounced the same as the Police Bureau’s SERT (Special Emergency Reaction Team). To avoid confusion, Portland adopted the NET name.
Hall, who takes emergency preparation information to schools and other groups as well as the PCC class, took her first NET training when she was pregnant with her first child, who is now three and a half years old.
“I was concerned about raising a family in earthquake country,” she said, adding that her community outreach also benefits her two children. “I’m trying to make a more resilient community for them.”