The many benefits of living by the beach are balanced by a few realities like higher real estate prices and the heightened potential for natural disasters. In Lincoln County, the attitude is increasingly “Better safe than sorry.”
“We continue to see a shift in the cultural acceptance and understanding of the potential impacts of a disaster such as a Cascadia subduction zone event,” said Virginia ‘Jenny’ Demaris, manager of the Lincoln County Emergency Management Department. “We’re working hard to ensure the county is as prepared as possible, but we can’t do everything, so we are very grateful to partners that are taking action and will be there when we need them.”
One of those partners, Demaris noted, is Oregon Coast Community College, with Facilities Manager Chris Rogers at the helm.
“In the event of a disaster, our plan is to be prepared to provide services to 3,000 people for three weeks,” he said. “The Navy and other agencies believe it could take up to three weeks for Lincoln County to receive help and services from the outside, that is why we have set three weeks as the time period we’re preparing for.”
Stored in large shipping containers on the OCCC Central County Campus are supplies like food, water, and even 500 pieces of clothing donated to the project from the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
And, some really big tents.
Partners such as Chris at OCCC are really getting it done.
– Jenny Demaris
“Even though our building was built to survive earthquakes,” Rogers said, “we are planning on not going into it immediately after a disaster, just to be on the safe side.”
High and dry
The Central County Campus was built not only to be seismically sound, but it was also built out of the tsunami zone. Along with Safe Haven Hill, just south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, it’s an ideal location for South Beach area residents and visitors to turn to in the event of a tsunami warning.
“The staff at Hatfield (Marine Science Center) have been conducting drills where they walk up to hill to our site,” Rogers said.
Rogers has held the position of Facilities Manager, which includes overseeing janitorial services, student safety, event planning, building maintenance and general operations, for three years, but his history with the College goes back to the roots of the current campus, which opened in 2009.
“I’ve been part of this building since it first opened,” said Rogers, who started working there as a janitor and then began pursuing a two-year degree. “Working here pretty much forced me to get my college work done so I could graduate.”
Rogers is the first to admit to being a preparedness nerd, and says he enjoys participating in exercises such as the annual Great Oregon ShakeOut, where, according to the event website, “Millions of people worldwide practice how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On during Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills.”
Oregon Coast marks the ShakeOut in its own special way. A typical drill, held each autumn, features a campus-wide announcement in each of the College’s locations, the “drop, cover and hold on” drill – and then celebration of the ShakeOut drill itself with the serving of complimentary (what else?) milkshakes.
“It’s fun participating in events like these, especially when we talk to younger kids,” Rogers said. “Just being aware is so important, because if you aren’t you could endanger other people.
I think of this as a great way to help our community.”
Rogers also stressed that the work the College staff are doing isn’t limited to catastrophic natural events that may or may not happen in the foreseeable future.
“There are many emergency situations that we are now much better prepared for.”
Partners in Preparation
Rogers says that a grant from the County funded a project to map the county and all of the OCCC buildings, now part of the school’s preparedness plan.
“Now we are working with the Newport Fire Department to map out how it will look to house 3,000 people at the Central campus,” he said. “This project has really helped build our partnerships with Newport Fire, NOAA, Hatfield, OMSI, and Oregon Coast Aquarium.”
The support for the project within the OCCC comes from the top down, according to Rogers.
“Our President, Birgitte Ryslinge, is passionate about the College’s role in preparing the communities we serve for any eventuality,” he said. “That’s a big part of the reason it’s been so successful.”
The work put in by the college as well as the Lincoln County School District will be especially important should a disaster hit during a normal weekday during the school year.
“There will be lots of people in the evacuation area and they might not have time to get their kids,” Demaris said. “So the schools being active participants is even more important. Partners such as Chris at OCCC are really getting it done.”
– By Gretchen Ammerman, for OCCC