Planning for emergencies: Speaker draws on experience from 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, suggesting lists get made

Kristy Beachamp, standing, with the Oregon Health Authority, leads the discussion during an emergency preparedness workshop Tuesday at the Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario. Listening, from left, are Dave Fenstemacher of Malheur County Health Department and Lt. Rich Harriman, of Malheur County Emergency Management.

ONTARIO — Emergency responders, health-care and social-service providers and others met in Ontario on Tuesday to discuss how to serve populations with disabilities which would be vulnerable in emergency situations.

The event was sponsored by the Oregon Health Authority, Malheur County Emergency Management and Health Department and was held in the Snake River Conference Room at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario.

The meeting was part of ongoing discussions and planning for how the county and various agencies will respond to emergencies.

While the discussion was about how to respond to vulnerable populations in any emergency, whether living in their home or in group homes, the presenter Kristy Beachamp, with Oregon Health Authority, drew on her experience with the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, along the Columbia Gorge, to direct the conversation and to use wildfire as the example emergency.

Having good communications is one of the keys, with an emergency operation center the focal point, Bachamp said. Also important is evacuation planning.

Malheur County Sheriff’s Lt. Rich Harriman, head of county Emergency Management, said sometimes the emergency operation center could be on the hood of a pickup. However, it would more likely be in the Sheriff’s Office conference room, and if more space was needed, a larger room is available at Malheur Education Service District Office.

Another part of Tuesday’s talk was about drawing up lists of people and services, as well as contact numbers, which may be needed to help out in an emergency.

One of the needed lists is of people who have contact with the various vulnerable populations to alert them if there is an emergency and, if the need arises, to see if they need help evacuating.

Another suggested list was one that entailed who could provide transportation to help evacuate, and include details such as whether there enough vehicles to transport people with disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs.

Possible locations to take people for safety were also discussed, although Beachamp, allowed that during the Eagle Fire, the evacuation centers were not used for sleeping, but mainly as a place to get information and supplies.

Another list would be of buildings that would be available to put people in an emergency.

Planning for emergencies is an ongoing process with the county emergency planning committee meeting once a month and exercises are conducted on an ongoing basis.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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