Are you Prepared for a Flood?

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On October 4th, the Skagit County Commissioners declared this week (October 11-15, 2021) Flood Awareness Week. Flood Awareness Week offers multiple opportunities for community members to get involved and learn about flood preparedness for themselves and their families.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home! A great way to learn about floor preparedness is participating in two free webinars being held this week:

Flood Awareness with the Department of Emergency Management
Wednesday, October 13 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uqlmdE

NOAA Weather Spotter Training
Thursday, October 14 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via Zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uE569d

Not able to attend a training this week? That’s okay! Keep reading for some important steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding.

Stay informed about flooding risks in your area

Photo from the Roger Fox Collection, taken from Burlington Hill looking down into town during the flood of 1921.

Information about flooding in Skagit County, and some helpful flood preparation resources, can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/flood. Skagit also prepares a Flood Awareness Week booklet each year, which you can find that booklet online here.

Skagit County offers a variety of alert tools for residents, as well. You can sign up for CodeRed Alerts, follow @SkagitGov on Twitter, or sign up for news releases to receive key emergency information before, during, and after an event.

For more information on Skagit County flood response, call 360-416-1400 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/flood.

Prepare for Flooding

Sometimes floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Create a Communications Plan

It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it’s having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

It is good practice to have enough food, water, and medicine on hand to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted.

You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery-operated radio easily available.

Prepare Your Home

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Bridge over the Skagit that failed in 1995, stopping rail traffic for a couple of weeks.

1. If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think.

2. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.

3. Since standard homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane).

Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your home. For more flood insurance facts: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance

During a Flood Watch or Warning

  • Listen to your local radio or television station for updates.
  • Evacuate immediately, if told to evacuate. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.
  • Prepare your family and pets. You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to gather the essentials, including emergency supplies.
  • Have immunization records handy. Store immunization records in a waterproof container.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, gallon jars, and plastic soda bottles so that you will have a supply of clean water. Sanitize sinks/tubs first by cleaning them using a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Then rinse and fill with clean water.
  • Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely.
  • Charge your essential electronics. Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • If evacuation appears necessary: turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding, like low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Rememberavoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)

After Flooding Has Occurred

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters or standing water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If you have been evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water. Listen to water advisory from local authorities to find out if your water is safe for drinking and bathing. During a water advisory, use only bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, etc.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food and bottled water that comes/may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Use generators at least 20 feet from any doors, windows, or vents. If you use a pressure washer, be sure to keep the engine outdoors and 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents as well.
Aerial photo of the town of Hamilton in 2003.

The initial damage caused by a flood is not the only risk. Standing flood waters can also spread infectious diseases, bring chemical hazards, and cause injuries. After you return home, if you find that your home was flooded, practice safe cleaning.

For ways to stay safe after flooding, visit: https://www.ready.gov/floods#prepare.

For more information:

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood


Prepare to Protect – September is National Preparedness Month

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As if the current pandemic wasn’t enough, the wildfires and extreme heat this summer definitely helped to remind us of the importance of preparing for disasters. Now that we’re in September, it is time to celebrate National Preparedness Month (NPM), an awareness campaign which promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning. It’s an opportunity to remind folks that we all must prepare ourselves and our families for when emergencies happen.

The goal of NPM is to increase the overall number of individuals, families, and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, school…wherever! This year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Each week in September, a different aspect of preparedness is highlighted. The weekly highlights this year include:

September 1-4: MAKE A PLAN

What this means…

It may help to ask yourself a few questions as you create your emergency plan and discuss them with the other members of your household. They include:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation route?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?
  5. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and update my emergency plans due to COVID-19.
  6. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Once you’ve made your emergency plan, practice it! Try testing your communications plan and meeting at your agreed-upon shelter if you get separated. For guidance on making an emergency plan, go visit Ready.gov here.

September 5-11: BUILD A KIT

What this means…

Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Note: Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus or other viruses and the flu. Some additional items include face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

For more guidance on building an emergency kit, go to Ready.gov here.

September 12-18: LOW-COST, NO-COST PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.  Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date. For information on ensuring your property, go here.

September 19-25: TEACH YOUTH ABOUT PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find, and don’t forget to think about specific needs in your family. Your family’s needs change over time, so update your plan regularly. For guidance on emergency plans for families with children, go here.


For more preparedness information, including how to make a disaster or emergency plan and how to make your own emergency kit, go to www.ready.gov.

Skagit County also has local disaster information on our emergency preparedness website. Here, you can register to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.  This system is a great way to receive local, timely and critical information when it matters most.


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

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Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Know Your Family Health Hazards

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Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergency Management is mostly about risk management. The theory is that if you know what your risks are, you can plan for a better response when an emergency hits and be able to recover more easily. Risk management works alongside prevention, protection and mitigation, which reduce risks before an emergency; all are vital to emergency management. We have a variety of major hazards in Skagit County — flood, volcano, fire, storms, tsunami, and hazardous materials to name a few. Do you know what your personal and family hazards are? Including any health hazards you know of in your family plan is an important component of risk management.

Current events have shown how important it is to be prepared for health hazards. Along with the facemasks and hand sanitizer, what can you do to protect your family’s health during an emergency?

First, know what your family’s health hazards are are. They could include allergies, diabetes, respiratory illness or necessary medications. Any medical condition that requires specific medication or medical equipment or that gets worse from stress can be a health hazard.

Second, include your family’s health hazards in your emergency planning. Know what can trigger the condition or make it worse, what the reactions look like, and what’s needed to make it better. If possible, have back-up medicine or equipment in your evacuation kit. I know it’s not always possible, especially for equipment. At a minimum, include the following in your kit:

  • A list of all medications with dosage requirements and prescription information
  • A list of equipment, including where it came from and any required settings
  • Non-medical emergency provisions
  • A copy of your medical insurance information and doctor contact information with your important documents
  • Some medical conditions can decrease your immune response, so you may want to increase your supplies of facemasks and hand sanitizer

What does that look like in practice? If you have allergies that have an anaphylactic response, keep an epinephrine injection (commonly called an EpiPen) in your kit and be extra cautious of triggers. If it’s a reaction that can be triggered by skin absorption, have gloves in your kit. If you have diabetes, have a list of medications, what kind of insulin and needles you use, the location of your glucose meter, and some appropriate emergency food for when your blood sugar gets low. Let your family know what it feels like when your sugar is low and what they can watch out for.

Preparing for health hazards doesn’t end once the emergency is over — it includes being aware of potential triggers afterwards. Medical equipment may need to be replaced; having a list of where the equipment came from and any special settings needed can speed up replacing it. Cleaning products, mold, and other contaminants can trigger medical conditions, so be alert for medical reactions. Long-term stress can also aggravate some conditions.

Health hazards come in all shapes and sizes. Planning for an emergency should include health hazards to help you respond and recover from the emergency. Knowing what the triggers are, what reactions to look out for, and what’s needed to combat that reaction can help save a family member. It’s always a good idea to take First Aid and CPR training, too!


Include Preparations for Diseases in Your Emergency Planning

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Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they become stacked on top of each other — like dealing with flood or wildfire season during a pandemic. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management recommends that you take the time to revise your family emergency plans to consider how you will keep your family safe in the event of an emergency during a disease outbreak. These plans will be critical not only during COVID-19, but in the case of possible future outbreaks of other diseases.

The most important thing you can do in preparation for emergencies during a pandemic or disease outbreak is to learn about and practice effective infection control. Illnesses are usually spread through the air (when someone coughs or sneezes) or through contact (you touch something contaminated, then touch your face). The easiest and most effective way to limit disease spread is to frequently wash your hands, use good cough and sneeze hygiene, and avoid close contact with ill people.

So how can you work those preventions into your family emergency plans? (You do have a plan, don’t you?) Focus on being able to keep your hands and face clean, to clean surfaces if needed, and to maintain space.

Some examples of things you should consider:

  • Keep a supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in your go bag for every person in your house. Wear a face mask whenever you are around other people.
  • Practice good cough and sneeze hygiene:
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Throw away used tissues in a lined trash can.
    • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • For answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to frequently asked questions about handwashing, just click here.
  • Stock supplies to disinfect surfaces, whether in your home or at an evacuation location.
  • Consider how social distancing will work if you have to evacuate — maintain enough space from others with only a small amount of time spent close to people outside of your household. Plan on having enough supplies so you don’t have to borrow from anyone you don’t live with, and maintain enough space between you and other households to limit contact. Be aware that you may need to travel farther away from home to find shelter; in order to maintain social distancing, local evacuation centers may not be able to serve as many people as normal.
  • Be sure water sources are safe and surfaces are effectively cleaned during and after an event. Standing water and open sewage are places of contamination and disease spread.
  • Know where to get verified information, not only for evacuations and weather, but also regarding disease information. The Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health are good sources of current, local information.
  • Know the signs of any major illnesses in the area. For example, the CDC recently updated the range of COVID-19 symptoms, including:
    • Fever or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headache
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion or runny nose
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
  • Think through how you can keep others safe if you were to fall ill during an emergency. Plan ahead for a safe location where you can maintain appropriate distance from other people if you need to leave your home. Consider ways to limit other’s exposure to you, such as wearing a face mask and isolation.

Planning for emergencies is a never-ending process. If you don’t have a plan, talk with your household and come up with one. If you do, you can find ways to make your plan better. Adding a few things to your plan to keep you healthy during a disease outbreak — even if it’s not a pandemic — makes you and your family better prepared for anything that happens.