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Emergency Web site upgraded

The Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management has modified its Web site to provide information needed to prepare for any natural or man-made disaster, offering advice while shifting the responsibility from the government to the individual.

“If there is an earthquake, Batman or Superman won’t be there to pull you out of the rubble,” said KCDEM Director Phyllis Mann. “People shouldn’t expect that emergency services would come to their rescue. The government is responsible for taking care of the infrastructure. So we’re trying to push the onus of preparedness onto the citizens.”

Mann said the lessons learned by Hurricane Katrina were clear — that the government isn’t responsible for feeding or housing displaced people. Individuals need to prepare themselves for any disaster that may occur.

The disaster most likely to strike this area is an earthquake, with forecasters calling this a “when” rather than “if” scenario. However, we could just as easily face a tsunami, hurricane or terrorist attack.

“We’ve been pushing preparedness since the Nisqually Earthquake,” Mann said. “People aren’t getting it. The question is no longer ‘Why not?’ but ‘What are you waiting for?’ ”

At the very least, she said, people need to store three to seven days of food and water for themselves and their pets.

“The first thing you need to do is be able to help yourself,” Mann said. “You have to learn to be selfish. You take care of yourself first, then help any friends or neighbors who may have forgotten.”

Kitsap County has already had a taste of disaster, underscoring the need for preparation.

“During the recent power outage, people were lulled into thinking this was a small event,” Mann said. “But some places lost power for three or four days.”

The new Web site will debut on Friday and will have the same address as the current site, www.kitsapdem.org.

The upgrade coincides with the first of two major upcoming preparedness exercises — a county-wide earthquake drill. All county buildings and some private companies will drop, cover and evacuate while following proscribed guidelines. The supervisors will then send a survey form to KCDEM, to evaluate their own earthquake preparedness.

Since this occurs during spring break, all Kitsap County schools will conduct the 15-minute drill at a time of their own choosing.

The second drill takes place April 19 and 20. Firefighters from throughout the region are already preparing for the exercise, to take place on acreage surrounding KCDEM’s Bremerton facility.

Currently, workers are piling rubble to resemble a collapsed building, with several dummies inside simulating casualties.

In the event of a real disaster, the new Web site will morph into a sophisticated information center with up-to-date news about how people can help themselves to available resources.

By logging in, those in disaster areas can avoid actions that would make matters worse.

The site is designed to be impervious to local disasters, since the data backbone is located out of state and can be updated from any location. Consequently, the information will flow as long as the Internet still functions.

Mann points out that the site is not a substitute for 911 service and does not feature robust e-mail or instant-messaging abilities.

“We didn’t know how to use the Internet in 2001 during the Nisqually Earthquake,” Mann said. “But it was the only thing that worked. If people are in trouble, they should call 911. We don’t want them to be sending us text messages.”

Mann acknowledges that a massive power failure will disrupt Internet service, especially for wireless networks. This adds a few more items to the average preparedness kit.

First, you would need a laptop computer with extra batteries and a car charger so you’re not relying on household power.

Also, maintaining a dial-up account eliminates dependence on modems and cable systems.

People will be able to connect through dial-up, since phones usually run during power outages.

Mann hopes people will be adequately prepared when the next disaster strikes, and is using every opportunity to get the message across.

“After Katrina, we didn’t do a good job of telling our story,” Mann said. “Citizens had a lot of questions. So they still aren’t getting it. But it is possible for a majority of the people to be prepared.”

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