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Oregon disaster team to enlist fishermen.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

PORTLAND - Oregon fishermen may officially become first responders to the state's next big disaster. Emergency officials will begin beefing up their communication networks soon - maybe even rent their own satellite. And Gov. Ted Kulongoski is now traveling with a backpack, filled with enough supplies to last three days in the event he's caught in a catastrophe.

Kulongoski encouraged citizens to follow his lead on Friday, at a disaster preparedness summit he hosted with a representative of Sen. Gordon Smith at a Portland high school.

On the heels of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, whose wrath exposed fatal flaws in planning, communications and response at all levels of government, Oregon's governor urged citizens and those who protect them to learn the lessons of one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history.

"Oregonians do not have 72 hours notice of a pending disaster," Kulongoski said. "The events that can affect Oregonians happen with little or no notice."

And if a recent American Red Cross survey of some Oregon residents is any indication, Oregonians may not be as ready as they think they are for the next big disaster.

While more than 80 percent of respondents in the survey described themselves as prepared for a natural disaster, less than 20 percent had actually taken all three of the recommended steps to do so: having a disaster kit, a plan and training such as CPR.

Still, there's plenty of work being done to get up to speed, the summit's participants said. Among the specifics is a plan to mobilize Oregon's fishing fleet following a coastal earthquake or tsunami, which Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson is spearheading.

A group of fishermen on the coast are working with local and state officials to finalize an agreement whereby fishermen would transport and provide food, fuel and supplies to people struck by a disaster, since waterways may be the only viable transportation routes.

The fleet could even move up the Columbia River, if necessary, to respond to survivors in Portland in the event of a big earthquake, said Ken Murphy, director of Oregon Emergency Management.

In exchange, Thompson is working to get assurance from the federal government that the fleet will be reimbursed for its costs.

Kulongoski also signed House Bill 2101, which will create a statewide telecommunications system to allow police, fire, ambulance, transportation and other first responders to communicate directly with each other, anywhere in the state.

But as people in the South learned in the days after Katrina struck, individual preparedness is as likely to save lives as anything the government can do - thus, Kulongoski's backpack with hand warmers, towelettes, a poncho, duct tape, glow sticks, aspirin, food and water perched atop his shoulder at the summit.

"I hope I never have to use it," he said. "But if I do, it may make the difference between life and death for me and my family."

The governor mentioned the tsunami warning issued June 14 and its qualities as a real-life drill that "didn't go well." State emergency officials released a report in August that detailed a scattered response to the warning and rampant confusion among citizens and emergency managers alike.

"Being prepared requires a constant cycle of plan, train, exercise and review," Kulongoski said. "It is not enough to have good plans in place, because plans do not respond. People respond."

Kulongoski announced plans to create a preparedness task force, to analyze Oregon's response to Katrina and Rita and to identify whether the state is prepared for a natural disaster of similar proportions.

Emergency officials who attended the summit expressed several concerns to the governor, including the fear of being cut off from assistance and being short on state and federal funding to prepare for a disaster.

Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast@ oregonfast.net.
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Title Annotation:Government; Taking a cue from Katrina, state leaders aim to enhance communication and response time
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:640
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