Lowell Carlson

Lowell Carlson


For half of the year Brenda and I live in a region where earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, volcanoes and tsunamis have all historically been a threat.

This is a part of the country where you see a whole shelf section in the local Wal-Mart displaying disaster supplies and emergency tools. Supermarkets sell a week’s worth of meals in plastic five-gallon buckets. Just add water.

For the first time in my life I have started to think about an emergency plan. Not just a plan for a house fire evacuation but trying to imagine catastrophe and going from there.

The unthinkable can happen out here. Bob, our neighbor across the street here in Napavine, Washington, can attest to that. His daughter and her family barely escaped the wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California. They live in an RV now.

We made certain we were not living in a floodplain when we bought property out here, and 60 miles in from the Pacific rules out the threat of tsunami. Washington has dormant volcanoes on the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire, from Mt. Baker in the north to ruined Mt. St. Helens in the south. 

If you want to scare the bejeebers out of yourself, read Kathryn Schultz’s chilling and sobering description of life after the Cascadia Subduction plate just off the Olympic Peninsula moves even mere centimeters. Her 2015 New Yorker article “The Really Big One” won her the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. Long story short, don’t have business in Seattle the day that earthquake hits. It will turn all that fill in the downtown high-rise district in to jelly.

In all likelihood, however, here in small-town, southwestern Washington, the emergency will be loss of utilities, threat of wildfire, transportation disruption, and flash flooding. 

In fact, of the 66 disaster events from 1970 to 2017, 35 of them were caused by flooding. At one point several years ago Lewis County closed more than 20 rural and secondary roads due to heavy runoff flooding.

In 2007 severe flooding here in Lewis County actually closed down the Interstate 5 corridor. That flood damaged over 3,000 homes and businesses and did a record $166 million in damage. The record flooding forced businesses to source everything from toothpicks to telephone poles by way of a lengthy detour up and over the Cascades, adding hundreds of miles to transportation costs.

Lewis County mandated more public emergency education after that disaster, direct information to help individuals begin planning for the unthinkable. They published handy pocket guides packed with lists of supplies, emergency contact information, how to shelter in place, what to pack for evacuations.

It has been enough to get us started — shutting off utilities, knowing their location on the property, signing up for the county’s free emergency text and telephone alert system, become familiar with the county’s three-level warning system for wildfire.

I have started a backpack that is gradually filling with items I’d need over a three-day period. Needless to say the list includes toilet paper. We have a food bin with items that we could heat on a camp stove. Still to be accomplished, though, is water storage sufficient to last us for at least three days.

Plan now, don’t panic later

Our neighbor’s daughter had just minutes to get out of Paradise before their home burned to the ground. There was no time for reflection, cool decision making. It was grab the keys and run.

The county emergency planning agency has a better idea but it requires engagement and commitment…

Their angle? Take one hour a month, 60 minutes out of 30 days to gather supplies and set down information vitally critical in the event of a disaster. And then share it with family members.

Emergencies make communications difficult. The local telephone lines may be knocked out or overwhelmed with callers. You can expect widespread damage to roads, bridges and overpasses. If you cannot call or drive back to your home, how will you know if loved one are safe?

The answer is to pick a common friend or family member at least 100 miles away from you and have everyone in your household report in to that person.

We’re not there yet and it doesn’t mean doing this allows us to bypass the stress and anxiety, even injury, that could come with disaster. It will reduce the chaos, though, when locating some simple item in the face of impending danger renders you helpless, and you could have avoided it by preparing in advance.