What’s up with that? When the big one hits, who ya gonna call? CRESA



I was looking up stuff on the Internet about emergency preparedness and natural disasters. The city of Vancouver website has a page about preparing for volcanoes that says that there’s been activity at Mount St. Helens and basically it could blow anytime. But it lists no date. So I called the Office of Emergency Management that’s listed there, but somebody told me there’s no such office. I just think it’s somewhat irresponsible to put this out. Seems like a pretty major thing.

—James Waltz, Van Mall neighborhood

James, we’re with you. We visited the city’s website and confirmed what you describe: text warning that the volcano could “erupt again anywhere between the next few days to a month from now.” That may be technically true — but it seemed obsolete, probably left over from the last round of busy St. Helens activity, which ended in January 2008.

There was also a listing for the Office of Emergency Management with a general City Hall phone number; when we called, a front-line receptionist straightforwardly said “nobody” manages that Web page and there’s no Office of Emergency Management at the city.

Officials eventually clarified: Vancouver did have an Office of Emergency Management through January 2010, but budget cuts resulted in the elimination of the emergency management coordinator and the fire prevention and education coordinator positions. Those employees were laid off. The Web page languished.

Not to worry: Clark County and its seven cities have been served by the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (or its predecessor) since the 1990s. The agency handles emergency communications of all sorts, from ongoing 911 calls to natural disaster alerts and responses. If the big one hits, CRESA is the agency that’ll provide key local information for us all.

“When time is critical, we use the Emergency Alert System to communicate out to radio and TV stations and the Emergency Community Notification System to notify people via their landline phone,” said CRESA manager Cheryl Bledsoe. “Cellphones and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone numbers need to be added by residents to be included in this system.”

If general disaster preparedness is what you’re after, CRESA’s website, http://www.CRESA911.org, is rich with resources. There’s a blog site, a Facebook page and Twitter feeds, all available via that main page. And there are links to federal and scientific information.

Meanwhile, the city’s obsolete Web page has been removed since we asked; now when you click on the Emergency Management link you’re sent straight to CRESA.

Oh, and — just to be super clear — the big mountain is quiet right now.

“While it is still classified as a volcano, we are not aware of any recent activity that would be cause for concern,” said Bledsoe. “We work closely with the Cascades Volcano Observatory who alerts us when there is activity of concern like earthquakes or seismic activity.”

(If you want to learn more about our hot-headed neighbor, check out http://www.columbian.com/volcano.)

By the way, James, your question is well timed — because CRESA is hosting an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The agency is at 710 W. 13th St.

—Scott Hewitt

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.