Summer is right around the corner which means sunshine and heat! While Pacific Northwesterners anxiously await these warmer months, we also need to be conscious of potential risks associated with extreme heat. For those who may be heat sensitive or who do not have adequate access to cooling systems or water, extreme temperatures can be life threatening. And with extreme heat events predicted to now be more common due to our changing climate, it is a good time to look at ways to prepare.
As you may recall, last summer we experienced a record-breaking heat wave that lasted 7 days—from June 26th to July 2nd. According to the Washington State Department of Health, there were 100 heat related deaths reported throughout the state. In Skagit County, we sadly lost 6 individuals to heat related complications during this time.
It is crucial that during these times we are ready and prepared. Being ready can help to prevent heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and—most importantly—death. Do you know the signs of heat-related illnesses and ways to respond? Keep reading for some helpful information.
Prepare for Extreme Heat
Weather strip doors and windows.
Cover windows with drapes or shades.
Have at least 2 fans to create air flow in home. Remember fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort but will not reduce your body temperature or prevent heat-related illnesses.
Install a window air conditioner and insulate around it.
Add insulation to keep the heat out.
Know of cooling places like stores or libraries near you! Contact Skagit County Public Health to find a cooling shelter near you—(360) 416-1500.
Be Safe During
Stay hydrated and drink lots of fluids.
Take cold showers or baths.
Go to a cooling center if air conditioning is not available in your home.
Never leave people or pets in a closed vehicle on a hot or warm day.
Wear loose, light colored clothing, and lightweight clothes.
Use your oven less to help reduce heat in your home.
Avoid being outside.
Check in with family members to let them know you’re okay or to check if they’re okay. As well with neighbors, and friends.
Consider pet safety.
Watch for signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
What is heat illness?
Some common heat illnesses are heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps. Here are some signs to look out for.
If you have signs of heat cramps or heat exhaustion, go to the closest cooling center/location near you. Try to cool down by removing excess clothing and drink water or sports drinks. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or last more than an hour.
As you may recall, on January 15, 2022, a tsunami warning was placed for parts of the U.S. West Coast and Alaska after a volcano eruption occurred near the Tonga Islands. Waves were projected to be 1-to-3 feet along the western coastline extending from California to Alaska.
Thankfully, this event did not result in any major damage along the Washington coastline. It was a good reminder, however, that we should always be prepared for future tsunami events considering our location here in Skagit County.
Are you and your family prepared for a tsunami? Join us in recognizing Tsunami Preparedness Week this week! Register at Tsunamizone.org for resources and get some tips on how to be safe in the event of a tsunami.
What is the Cascadia subduction zone? Why should you care?
The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs for 7 hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, this zone expands along Oregon and Washington, wrapping around Vancouver, Canada.
An article (“New tsunami modeling shows more flooding likely for Skagit County”) from the Skagit Valley Herald in 2021 did a great job at summarizing the risks posed by our location. The article informs us that the most recent modeling of a potential Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake alongside the West Coast would result in greater flooding, and a greater risk for a local tsunami event than formerly predicted.
What you should do to prepare before, during, and after a tsunami?
The above goes to show the importance of tsunami preparedness. There is so much that individuals and families can do to prepare for, and anticipate, these types of events. Here are a few simple steps that you can take to ensure that you’re ready if—or when—a tsunami occurs.
Step 1: Get a Kit
Remember, this will be your emergency bag and will be the only thing you’ll have, so make sure to prepare to meet the needs of yourself and/or your household. To find a guide for kit building, visit Ready.gov.
Step 2: Make a Plan
Make a communication and evacuation plan with your friends and family. Remember to have a plan for your pets as well! Have a couple of designated meeting areas for you and your family in case you become separated. Make your plan by visiting Ready.gov!
Step 3: Be informed
Learn what you need to know to keep you and your family safe. Also, monitor the news and share your newly acquired knowledge with family and friends. Basic knowledge of first aid and CPR can also go a very long way!
In Skagit County, a great way to stay informed is by signing up for CodeRed alerts. Register here to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.
If you feel an earthquake: DROP, COVER, and HOLD on to anything you can that is sturdy to protect yourself.
When you have noticed that the earthquake has stopped, get together with your household members, and go over your emergency evacuation plan to safely get out.
Contact a Coast Guard emergency frequency station or any local radio station for any emergency information and listen for an official tsunami warning. If directed to do so, evacuate at once.
Make sure to take your emergency go-bag and your pets with you! If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for them to stay either.
Get to higher ground as far inland as possible. The further up and farthest away from the water the safer you and your loved ones will be during the disaster.
Avoid any downed power lines, buildings, bridges, or heavy objects during your evacuation.
Finally, wait until officials say it is safe before attempting to go home. There can be a series of waves within hours.
Reach out to family and friends to let them know you are safe and to check in.
If you become injured or sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, do not hesitate and call 9-1-1.
If evacuated, only return if authorities have said it is safe to do so.
Document any property damage. Take picture and keep an inventory for your insurance company. You can also contact Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management at (360) 416-1850 for assistance.
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.
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.
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
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. (Remember: avoid 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.
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.
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:
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
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.
Overdose deaths accelerated in Washington State in 2020, increasing by 38% in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019.Preliminary data show 835 overdose deaths in Washington State in the first six months of 2020 compared to 607 deaths in the first half of 2019. Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309 during that time. Most deaths involved multiple substances and many involved fentanyl. In Skagit County, a total of 143 nonfatal and 28 fatal overdoses were reported in 2020. Of those, 18 nonfatal and 10 fatal were related to fentanyl.
Substance use disorder is a disease that impacts many in our community. Overdose deaths are preventable with preparedness, education, and community care.
Illicit fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. In Washington state, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioid pills, as well as in powders and black tar heroin. People may not be able to tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or the look of the drug. According to the WA Department of Health, people should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.
Everyone can play a role in saving lives in our community. If someone in your life is struggling with substance use disorder, learn the the signs of opioid overdose including; the inability to wake up; slow or no breathing; and blue, gray or ashy skin, lips or fingernails.
If you are struggling with substance use, do your best not to use alone and start slow using a tester amount to determine strength. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone) to ensure someone can help in the event of an overdose.
Remember, the Good Samaritan Overdose law (RCW 69.50.315) says neither the victim nor people assisting with an overdose will be prosecuted for drug possession.
Help people struggling with opioid use disorder to find the right care and treatment. If you or a loved one want treatment or just want to learn more, see the Washington Recovery Helpline, or call 1-866-789-1511.
For information about what Skagit County is doing about the opioid and fentanyl crisis, for list of local treatment providers, or to learn how to use naloxone, go to www.skagitrising.org or call (360) 416-1500.
Right now, we’re all reminded of the power of nature. The West Coast is experiencing historic wildfires, and the Gulf Coast is reeling from an unusually active hurricane season. Even though the thought of needing to evacuate your home might be stressful, it’s important to prepare for that possibility now. Planning ahead can reduce anxiety. Being prepared and knowing what to do will help you when a major disaster strikes.
In recent months, we’ve been reminded of how important it is to have items stocked and ready, from food and water to face masks. It’s good to have supplies if you can’t leave your house, but what happens if you can’t stay there? There are steps you can take now to prepare, such as having a Go Bag ready in case you need to leave your home, and establishing a game plan for when it’s time to go. What do you take if you have 5, 10 or 30 minutes to evacuate? Have some bare necessities ready to go, and know what you’ll grab if you have time.
What can you do now?
Know when it’s time to go—sign up for alerts and warnings. Skagit County uses CodeRED for local emergencies and alerts. NOAA weather alerts are available, and many weather apps can be set to notify you of new alerts. If you travel to an area outside the county on a regular basis, check with the emergency management for the local area and sign up for alerts there as well.
Document your property with pictures or create a video with details about special items. Send the files to your email or an internet cloud location like Dropbox so you can access it from anywhere, and consider sending it to your emergency contact person to store.
Build a Go Bag for each person. Use a backpack or plastic tote that is small enough to be easily handled by one person. Everyone has a different set of priorities for items to include, so cover your high priorities first. If you have kids, let them help build their Go Bag, and let them choose some of the things that go in it so they have ownership of it. First things first, though—ALWAYS know where your wallet and cell phone are!
Priority items to have in Go Bags:
Face masks and hand sanitizer for everyone
Nonperishable food and manual can opener—replace food every 6 months
1 gallon of water per person per day and/or a way to sanitize water to be drinkable
First aid kit
Flashlight and batteries
Personal hygiene items, including toilet paper
Important documents stored in a waterproof container: think identification, medical and financial essentials, such as an emergency contact list, insurance papers, birth certificates, driver’s license, marriage license, list of important numbers like social security, credit cards, bank accounts, vehicle and property paperwork
Consider special needs in your household, such as elderly, infant, access and functional needs, pets—each may have special medical needs, specific food needs, supplies, and records
Radio and extra batteries
Small comfort item, like a copy of your favorite family photo or a small stuffed animal
Other items to consider:
Money, checks, credit card
Change of clothes
Cell phone charger
Garbage and zip-top bags
Picnic items or camp mess kits to eat from
What do you do when it’s time to go?
If there is no time, remember People, Pets, and Packs. Grab your people, your pets and your Go Bag and GO! In some emergencies, there is no time to get more. You need to get to a safe area as quickly as possible. Your life can not be replaced.
If you have 5 minutes: Add essential medical equipment, non-vital medications, glasses, laptop and charger, and any items from the list above that aren’t already in your Go Bag.
If you have 30 minutes and room in your vehicle: Add treasured family items, individual emotional comfort items, changes of clothes, and computer backups. Prepare your home as much as you can in the time you have: turn off utilities, move furniture depending on the reason for evacuation (fire: away from walls, flood: off the floor), move things that can catch fire or explode under heat away from your house, such as vehicles, grills, and firewood.
Every step you take today helps to mitigate the effects of large scale events on our families and communities. Make a game of drilling your family on what to take during an emergency—have them run around and put a sticker on what they consider the most important items while you time them. Make a list of those items and put the list in a zip-top bag attached to the front of your Go Bag. Knowing when to leave and what you will take during an emergency can give you one less thing to worry about in today’s world.
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 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
Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
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.