Preparing for the Worst in Benton County

Despite what some may think, many Oregonians are woefully unprepared for the dangers they face, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Andrew Phelps.  

What preparedness options are available in Benton County, and how can residents take advantage of them? The county’s emergency planner, Sierra Anderson, has some insights.   

“Build a kit, make a plan, sign up for alerts, and make preparedness a lifestyle,” said Anderson. “The most important preparedness tool we have are our neighbors.”  

It all boils down to being prepared for just about anything, but that’s not exactly easy. How does one plan for an earthquake, such as the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) megaquake that’s been expected for decades now, in comparison to a wildfire? 

“Preparedness plans and efforts need to be flexible enough to effectively support people during any disaster,” said Anderson.  

So what does a “jack-of-all-trades” emergency plan look like? 

Go-Bags or Emergency Kits  

These are likely familiar to most, but just in case they’re not, let’s have a refresher course.  

Go-bags are intended to be reserved for when you need to leave immediately. The idea is rather simple: gather everything that you absolutely cannot live without, and pack it into a duffle bag in your closet. It’s also good to keep a specialized, smaller version in your car — just in case.   

Anderson said that, at the bare minimum, your go-bag should include supplies for sheltering in place for two weeks. This should include food, water, medications, and sanitary items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, and toilet paper. Similarly, emergency kits should include little enough that they can be carried easily, while still having what you need to live in the event that your home isn’t habitable. And of course, these kits will look different if you have children, pets, or elderly family members to worry about. 

For your car, you should have similar items, in addition to weather-appropriate gear — gloves and blankets for winter, and sun protection and extra water for summer. Additionally, a fire extinguisher and road flares should be in every person’s car — emergency kit or not.  

Other Preparedness Steps  

Anderson emphasized the importance that individuals sign up for local emergency alerts through Linn-Benton Alert, and have emergency telephone numbers and contact plans in place. These will allow people to have a plan ready and know where to go and who to call in the case of any emergency.  

Part of emergency preparedness is not knowing what will happen, or when. According to Anderson, Benton County residents should be prepared for natural disasters such as earthquakes or extreme weather, as well as human-caused disasters.   

Some of the projects that the county’s emergency planning and response departments have participated in, or will participate in, include the Cascadia Rising 2022 National Exercise, which prepares emergency response members across the country for the event of a massive earthquake and tsunami, thanks to the CSZ megaquake. Multiple comprehensive training and exercise plans will also be available for emergency operations staff to prepare emergency response members to be a “well-developed staff that can respond to, and coordinate, emergency response for any disaster.”   

Currently, individuals can sign up for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) courses to be better prepared to help their community in the event of a disaster. There’s also Wildfire Community Coordination Planning, a community-wide planning effort between the city of Corvallis, Benton County, the Corvallis School District, OSU, Vina Moses, the Elks Club, Heartland Humane, It’s On Us Corvallis, and the Red Cross, among others, to “coordinate support for mass care and sheltering efforts to support all community members here in Benton County.”  

Beyond preparing physical bags and having numbers prepared, Anderson noted, “It is important to keep planning efforts that are attainable, applicable and realistic. Preparedness plans and efforts need to be flexible enough to effectively support people during any disaster.”  

In short, it’s better to be over-prepared than under. Being aware of evacuation routes for one’s neighborhood and place of work, as well as having ready access to emergency notifications is the absolute best step you one can take to be prepared for a disaster.  

Benton County community members can direct questions about preparedness to Benton County Emergency Services at 541-766-6864, or the Corvallis Fire Department emergency planning manager at 541-766-6527. More information is available on the Benton County Emergency Preparedness website.