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Published on May 29, 2020

Emergency Preparedness: Seismic Events & Disasters


Barbara Jensen, RN, CHEP discusses why it's important to formulate an emergency preparedness plan and tips on who and what to include in your plan.


Melanie Cole (Host): Welcome to Check-Up Chat with Evergreen Health. With me today is Barb Jensen. She’s the manager of trauma services at Evergreen Health. Barb, I’m so glad to have you with us today. I understand that you have an immense amount of experience in emergency preparedness training. Share with us a little bit about your background in emergency preparedness and why this is such an important topic for families.

Barbara Jensen RN, CHEP (Guest): Well thank you very much. I have had a lifelong passion for emergency preparedness. I’ve been a nurse for 39 years, the majority of which was spent at our regional level-1 trauma center, so of course emergency preparedness is always on the forefront. Because that trauma center serves a four state region.

A few years ago, I attained my master’s level certified healthcare emergency professional certification to really further my ability to support Evergreen Health in our preparedness journey. On the outside, I’ve been a member of the WA-1 DMAT team, the Disaster Medical Assistance Team. and I’m a current member of WADOT Aviation Search and Rescue where I support in medical care. So, I really have had a lifelong passion for preparedness, love to teach it and always hope that the Big One or the need for these skills doesn’t come.

Host: Well you are absolutely right about that and we do live in a time and also geographically speaking because of the potential for seismic events in the Pacific Northwest where everybody needs to be prepared to keep our families safe at any given time in different situations. Where do we start Barb? What are the components of a good sound emergency preparedness plan?

Barb: Well really, you need to look at your family. You need to look at where you live and what risks are there for you. Some of us live in areas that are prone to flooding. Some of us live in areas with big trees that are prone to power outages or trees down. But all of us, who live in the Pacific Northwest, no matter where we live, we always have to have in the back of our minds, the chance of the Big One happening, the Cascadia Level event.

We are overdue for that. And when that happens, that is truly going to be a regional catastrophe. So, it needs to be high on our radars. The most important thing is to have a plan. You need to sit your family down and talk about it. Then you need to prepare. You need to gather your supplies. There are wonderful websites that make it so easy for each of us to do this preparedness. You can download communications plans. You can download shopping lists. You can download guidance for storing water. It’s not hard. The biggest challenge is we have to do it. And it’s so easy to just procrastinate. We are all so very good at procrastinating. We’re busy. We don’t think about it. so, the most important thing is to take action.

Host: So, then how do we formulate that plan? What are some tips that you can give us Barb, for sitting our family down? Who needs to know? You know depending on our age of our children, what do we start with when we look at those lists and we look at what we need to keep on hand and where we are going to meet, and I mean there’s so many things. How do we put that all together?

Barb: Well I think the most important thing is put pen to paper and really think about based on the ages of our kids; for the little kids, it’s planning to have specific things in your emergency kits for them. That means age appropriate foods, it means distraction, card games, books, anything that you can use to keep a kid distracted during a time of crisis when parents need to be focused on the big picture.

For school-aged kids; make sure they have preparedness supplies at school. Most elementary schools at the beginning of the year have kids gather things in a big zip loc bag. But also you can put things in your kids’ backpacks. The other important things for school-aged kids to know is their phone contact in an emergency. I recommend that you find a friend or a family member out of state. After an earthquake particularly, in state communications can be very challenging but out of state communications often survive. Our family has an out of state contact in Chicago and when my kids were home, everybody knew, in case of an emergency, to call that out of state contact, report where you are and that you are okay.

And any kid can learn how to do that and there should be something in their backpack to remind them of that our of state contact. Then start teaching preparedness to your kids and your family. For little kids; make it a game. Think about gathering those important things. How much water do you need? How much food do you need? One of the things I always remind people when they are thinking about water; one gallon per person per day. Ideally, two gallons to allow for hygiene and for extra cooking and don’t forget your four-footed family members. They need food and water as well.

Food; remember your audience. You are not going to feed a toddler a dried Coast Guard protein bar. You have to think about the ages of your family members and think about special dietary restrictions when you are storing and stockpiling your food. Another thing that you’ll always have to remember is medications. It’s not easy to set aside a two week supply, but you need to. And sometimes that means going to your provider and requesting a two week overage. It can be difficult but it’s very necessary especially if you have prescriptions that you depend on. Diabetes, high blood pressure, those kinds of things. Those are important meds and you need to know that you have them because after that big earthquake, your pharmacy may not be open for days, if not weeks.

So, all of those things put pen to paper and start making a list and then put it together in your plan.

Host: Wow, what great advice. So, how long do we keep those supplies? So, do we replace them every six months, every year and where do you advise we keep that? I mean I even have a big huge Tupperware in my basement that’s full of different kinds of supplies. But I don’t know how often I’m supposed to replenish those or make them fresh and especially when you mentioned medications. How often?

Barb: Well, medications have an expiration date and so you need to always be aware. What I do is once every six months, I look at my emergency supply and I rotate. So, I use up the ones that have been stored for six months and I replace them with fresh ones. Water is really the key thing that expires. If you store commercially prepared water like the gallon jugs you get at the grocery store; those are good for one year. So, put a nice piece of duct tape or something with big felt pen on the outside that gives your replacement date.

If you prepare your own water, if you clean water jugs and you store your own water; that needs to be changed every six months. So, write yourself a note, put it on the calendar. Food supplies; all foods have an expiration date. I try and rotate things through periodically once or twice a year so that I’m sure that the things in my supplies don’t get close to their pull date and nobody is unhappy with the selection because tastes change. So, rotate them through your regular meal planning so that the supplies you have set aside are always fresh and ready to go.

Host: So, give us some tips for specific disasters. We’ve been talking about earthquakes, but what about God forbid; fires, mudslides, there are all kinds of disasters that can happen, tornadoes or even just power outages that can last for weeks. So, what do you want us to know about those specific things? should we have a grab and go kit for evacuation? What do you want us to know?

Barb: Absolutely. And I think the thing again, as I said at the very beginning, know your area, know your risks. If you live in an area where it floods every year; you need to be aware of where you store your supplies. You need to be aware of having waterproof clothing so that if you have to evacuate on foot; you can.

If you live in an area where trees go down and your power goes out; if you can manage, have a generator to keep your family safe and comfortable until the power comes back on. All of these things, your preparedness is based upon how you assess your risk. People in eastern Washington certainly need to be more aware of wildfire danger than those of us in the urban area, though this year, they are saying that the chance of urban wildfires is actually significant. So, know your risks depending on where you live.

A grab and go pack is great. I have one under the foot of my bed with a pair of hard soled shoes and that is key because whether it’s an earthquake or a power outage or a fire; you’re going to be getting out and getting out fast and you don’t want to go out barefoot or in shoes that may predispose you to becoming injured. So, underneath the foot of your bed or someplace where you can grab it quickly, put on a pair of hard soled shoes and get out.

Similar kits should be in your car. Anything in the back of your car, bottle water, a change of clothes, a pair of dry shoes, medications if you need them. For instance, if you are an asthmatic; maybe an extra inhaler. Those things that you might need, should you become stranded for hours. Think about those things, some Power Bars, something that can make you comfortable and help keep you safe until you can either get to safety or be found.

Host: So, as we wrap up, give us your best advice and include please if you would, for parents, you gave us great information and I was writing it all down while you were talking; great information about having that out of state contact; that’s brilliant. But what if our children are at school? Do we jump in our car and go get them? Do we try and call the school? What are we supposed to do and then wrap it up with your best advice about why it is so important that we have a plan ahead of time for any emergency in our area.

Barb: So, kids at school; my best advice is every year when the school year starts; know your schools emergency plans. Schools are required to have the ability to shelter kids in place for a period of time. Know what your school plans are. The likelihood or the advisability of say after an earthquake of jumping in the car and rushing to the school; that may put you at risk and it may put others at risk if you are dashing down a roadway that may be damaged. Better to wait a bit, wait for the aftershocks to simmer down, assess what the situation is and then go to the school or try and contact the school.

But rushing in, doesn’t help anybody. And know that your schools are obligated to have a plan to keep your kids safe, to shelter them in place for a period of time. And again, I think the best advice that I can give anyone is don’t procrastinate. Start now. Even if you do a prepare in a year type plan where every time you go to the grocery store you pick up one item, whether it’s a gallon jug of water or some long shelf life foods or perhaps some candles; you add a little bit at a time. Or if you can do it; get a professionally prepared kit that gives you the basics and then you can add to that kit for your specific family needs whether it’s medications, whether it’s age-specific toys, whether it’s bottles and formula and diapers if you have an infant at home.

But don’t procrastinate. Start now because truly it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And we are well within the window. The dynamics of the mother earth are changing every day and we have to pay attention. Know your risk. And start today.

Host: Such great advice Barb. Thank you so much. You have incredible expertise in this area, and you gave us so much usable advice, things that we can do right now, and I think we all need to listen to you and do exactly as you said. and I know that I for one, am going to do that. Thank you so much for joining us.

And that wraps up this episode of Check-Up Chat with Evergreen Health. Head on over to our website at for more information and to get connected with one of our providers. If you found this podcast as cool as I did; please share with your friends and your family, share it on social media. That is so important that everybody hears the information that Barb gave us today. and be sure to check out all the other interesting podcasts in our library. Until next time, I’m Melanie Cole.

Barb Jensen Meet the Expert

Barb Jensen, MD

Barb Jensen is the manager of trauma services and in charge of emergency preparedness at EvergreenHealth.

She’s had a lifelong passion for preparedness, and has a master’s level certification as a healthcare emergency professional.

Barb is also a member of the Washington State Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).

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