Today, I am pleased to feature the first of what I hope will be a regular series of guest authors. Most of us have minimal personal experience with the things we prepare for. I hope hearing from people with real experience, either as survivors or as responders, will help us better prepare.

Kristi Kelty R.N. has 35 years experience working in hospitals, including ICU, administration, and education. Like me, she had a career shift and is now the founder and president of HealthWorks! TV, a not for profit agency creating health related community television programming. After success in California, she moved to the southern Oregon coast where she continues her work with  HealthWorks! TV Oregon Regional Health Collaborative in Coos Bay. Her tsunami evacuation experiences below prompted her to develop a disaster preparedness series, with the first episode filmed today (I’m only a little biased because I was in it!). Many have forgotten that the 2011 Japanese tsunami led to evacuation of much of the Oregon,Washington, and California coasts, and caused over $13 million in damage in the U.S . (including poor Crescent City). Talk about  a real-life drill of evacuation plans!

Tsunami run like hell

Eight Lessons Learned from Tsunami Evacuation in Oregon – by Kristi Kelty

On March 11, 2011, I was evacuated from my home at 4:30 AM due to the tragic earthquake and subsequent tsunami disaster in Japan. This gave me a chance to “test out” my personal emergency preparedness plan, developed after moving to a low-lying tsunami inundation area in Oregon. The fact that we were told we had 3 to 3.5 hours in which to get to higher ground provided a window of opportunity to test out my plan for the first time, using a calm clear head (even if it was somewhat muddled and foggy with sleep). Although this event was a tragedy for Japan, I am very thankful this evacuation provided insight into my own plan.

Despite my careful planning, (and having heeded the advice of multiple sources, such as U.S.G.S., O.E.S., etc.), I discovered there were huge gaps in my emergency plan. Here is a list of the gaps, with the hope that others may reconsider aspects of their own emergency preparedness plans:

Call Me!Photo by Felipe Lange Borges.

Call Me!
Photo by Felipe Lange Borges.

1. Fortunately, I was awakened at 4 am by a good and caring friend, and invited to her house in order to be out of the flood/tsunami zone. I encourage anyone with friends or family living in low-lying areas to call that person immediately upon hearing of a possible tsunami. The human temptation is to assume that someone else will make that call; but when I called 911 in the past to report an accident or fire, I repeatedly experienced that I was the first person calling. Even when I made the call late, sometimes having traveled miles after viewing the scene (assuming that someone else had made the call!), I was still the first one.

I have learned to always assume that no one else has made the call. I must make the call myself, as it could save someoneʼs life.

2. Knowing that I had a couple of hours in which to vacate, (as this pending tsunami was not due to an offshore Oregon subduction quake), it still took me 45 minutes to get my most important items together, including my pets, which I would  take with me. I had a Go-Pak by the front door but it was too large to throw into the car along with the 2 cats, my hefty older dog, and all their supplies. So I loaded a small satchel with change of clothes, toiletries, favorite photo, copyrighted materials, laptop, cell phone and charger, NOA radio, etc.

I learned that in my own situation, I need to have a small backpack — in addition to the larger Go-Pak – that I can just grab and go, that will contain priority and overnight supplies. In addition, I will be putting originals of all copyrighted music and other critical documents into a safe deposit box.

3. I spent 20 of those 45 minutes (almost half of the time!) just rounding up my two cats. As I tried to get them into the cat carrier, each cat would promptly escape and initiate a sort of “Keystone Cops” chase scene, hiding under beds, tables, or in the closet. I also had to load the cat food, cat litter pan, cat litter, dog food, and leash, into the car, which all took precious time to gather up.4520104808_465081c2ef_n

Now I will pack a separate bag containing pet supplies, and keep it by my Go-Pak and smaller backpack for ready access. (If there is a 10-15 minute evacuation window I will just carry the cats out to the car in order to evacuate readily and not use the cat carrier.)

4. The wonderful firemen from the Bandon Fire Department went door to door warning residents of the pending possible tsunami and of the need for evacuation to higher ground. I learned that without having a doorbell by my outside front porch door, (which is locked at night), I will not be able to hear future emergency personnel knocking, as there is an enclosed front porch leading to the actual front door of my house. I will be installing a doorbell which can be heard in the bedrooms and furthest areas of the house.

5. The NOAA emergency radio that I keep by my bed and in the front area of the house and home office during the day, and which is always plugged in and contains needed batteries, for whatever reason did not provide any warning. I will be returning this radio and exchanging it for a model that is reliable during emergencies.

6. I had also placed a Go-Pak in the trunk of my car which had included bottled fresh drinking water. During this evacuation, I realized that I had used the emergency bottled water on hand in the trunk, and had forgotten to replace it. I learned that from now on I will not touch any water (or food supplies), designated for emergency use.

7. I realized that I did not have an actual mapped plan for evacuating to higher ground,other than driving to friendsʼ  houses. As a result, a friend and I drove up various roads near our homes today, to determine which road would provide the easiest and fastest access to higher elevation.

8. Despite living in a friendly neighborhood, I realized that I did not know the names or phone numbers of most of my neighbors. I am going to learn the names and phone numbers of my neighbors as part of my emergency preparedness plan. And I am going to research how to develop a Phone Tree so that vulnerable seniors and others living alone can be accounted for during emergencies.

Finally, through this experience I learned the concept of “Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst” in an emergency, which I hope and believe will make a large difference in my own survival.

Kristi Kelty
Bandon, Oregon

Does any of this sound familiar? Here’s my personal take on Kristy’s points:

1) I learned about the Japan earthquake shortly after it happened. Our neighborhood watch initiated our phone tree, not because we were in danger (we are 60 miles from the coast), but because we might know people on the coast to warn. I immediately called my sister,who lives on the beach in Crescent City. She was sound asleep and knew nothing about it. So I agree 100% with spreading the word – who cares if someone receives a warning multiple times? That’s better than no warning at all.

What shall I bring? Photo by Mónica Pinheiro.

What shall I bring? Photo by Mónica Pinheiro.

2 and 3) Has anyone actually run a self evacuation drill for yourself and your pets? I haven’t, but based on how long it takes to load everyone in the car for camping, I suspect I am way too slow. I have a small Go-bag at home, and I keep a stash of stuff in the car, so I could really dash for it if needed. It’s the slower evacuation that would trouble me – I’d waste a lot of time choosing  what to bring if I was given 2-3 hours.

4) Doorbells are important, but what about other ways of hearing warnings? Do you keep your phone by your bed and on ring? Have you tested whether your kids wake up when the smoke alarm goes off? It’s amazing what some people can sleep through (or not hear when wearing headphones).

5) Have good equipment, and check it regularly. If nothing else, make sure you get expected weather warnings. If you have a severe storm without an alert, you might want to check it out. There are also many alert apps for phones.

6) I confess – I also drink my “emergency” water! Any other sinners out there? We know we shouldn’t, but we do it anyway.

Drinking emergency water. Photo by Alexander Witt.

Drinking emergency water. Photo by Alexander Witt.

7) I win this one. I am paranoid about evacuation, so I find evacuation routes every where I go (if you live in Oregon or Washington, check out the tsunami inundation app mentioned in my last post).

8) Three words – Map Your Neighborhood ( if you don’t know this one, read many of my earlier posts)!

Thanks to Kristi for sharing her experiences. Her real-life tale showed me things I need to do differently. I hope it did the same for you.

Stay safe,

Sheila Sund, M.D.

  1. Amber says:

    This is a Great article!

    • disasterdoc says:

      Thank you. I followed the link to your site, and find the idea of training your family dog to be a family rescue dog fascinating. We’ll need to talk more about it sometime.

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