Newport host of Oregon Tsunami Conference

NEWPORT –– The friendliest city on the coast played host to the Oregon Tsunami Conference Monday and Tuesday, bringing in elected officials, emergency response workers and a variety of other professionals from all over the country to meet and discuss response strategies and emergency support systems both in other parts of the globe and on the Oregon coast.

Rather than filling up both days of the two-day conference with talking heads, the schedule was packed with both speeches and interactive activities for conference-goers to put their heads together to strategize and share experiences responding to and preparing for emergencies.

“This is an opportunity to bring together professionals on the coast to get us prepared for the inevitable tsunami that we’re expecting,” said Althea Rizzo, organizer of the Oregon Tsunami Conference. “When you’re preparing for Cascadia, it’s kind of the gold standard. When you’re prepared for Cascadia, you’re prepared for anything the coast can throw at you.”

The wide variety of speakers brought in scientists, emergency preparedness coordinators and naval officers, among others.

Some of the many topics covered during the conference included economic models for long-term impacts on the economy, bases for military rescue operations and how other communities across the globe have prepared for and recovered from similar emergencies.

“When we set up the conference, we wanted to make it different than having a talking head and an audience,” said Rizzo on Tuesday. “Their goal is to take away actions that they can do to solve this particular problem that they’re working on.”

On the level of public education, she said, many professionals at the conference were thinking about how to get the message of preparedness out to the public.

“For public education, how do you message this? How do you tell people?,” Rizzo added. “For mitigation funding, there are people who have really great ideas and they don’t know how to get grant funding for that.”

The information exchanged at the Oregon Tsunami Conference, local officials say, can better help law enforcement, politicians and other local leaders prepare for The Big One. Not only that, but it can also communicate what the expectations are for certain groups to respond and what each group’s actual capabilities are and identify gaps between the two.

“The benefits of this type of a conference is that people come with a certain expectation and assumption,” said Jenny Demaris, the Lincoln County emergency services manager. “It gives us an opportunity across the board to be able to come back with the same playing field.”

Notably, Lincoln County is working with the U.S. Navy and Clatsop County to locate naval craft landing zones in Lincoln County, which will be used as response sites in the event of the Cascadia earthquake. Identifying landing sites for emergency response groups will reduce the amount of time the county can receive equipment, supplies and other resources after a disaster, according to the Lincoln County Emergency Management Facebook page.

“Our Naval partners are expected to complete full site assessments here in Lincoln County by next summer,” read one post on the Facebook page. “We will...outline the most strategic craft landing zones based on our Newport Airport location and our community points of distribution will be located.”

As much as local agencies can do, those who attended the conference and have lived through natural disasters themselves say only individuals and families can help themselves the most.

“The night before Irma hit, the last thing the governor said before we went off air is, ‘If you’re in bed, and you’re in your pajamas, you need to get up and put on clothes and put on shoes in case you have to run.’ You can’t get more prepared than that,” said Mona Barnes, director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Advisor to the Governor of the Virgin Islands. “Talk to your family and have your own plan of what you will do if an event happens. The key for the residents of Oregon is don’t depend on the government to determine your survivability.”

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