In an emergency, people are going to need food, water, tents, tarps, blankets – you name it. But where can each community keep all those supplies? Answer: those large, metal cargo containers, called Conex boxes, that you see on ships on the ocean and on rivers, trains and on trucks traveling down the freeway
To help Tillamook County prepare for a Cascadia earthquake event, the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS), Office of Resilience and Emergency Management delivered two large portable cargo containers filled with emergency relief supplies and equipment to the Tillamook Municipal Airport.
These containers, called Conex boxes, were delivered in April and are part of an emergency preparedness partnership between ODHS, Tillamook County, Tillamook Municipal Airport and Near Space Corporation.
“Coastal communities like Tillamook are prioritized to house these Conex boxes because data shows they are likely to be cut off from the rest of the state during the Cascadia earthquake,” said Ed Flick (he/him), director of the ODHS Office of Resilience and Emergency Preparedness. “ODHS has primary responsibility for mass care and shelter following disasters, so helping local communities access critical supplies that can quickly be used to serve their local community is important to us.”
A section of the Tillamook Municipal Airport is designated as an evacuation assembly point for Tillamook County. The Conex boxes are stocked with food, water, tents and medical supplies to support 100 people at the evacuation assembly point for two weeks in the event of an emergency. Conex boxes are tan or rust colored containers that are 20-feet long and 8-feet wide.
Evacuation assembly points are short-term locations for people to gather while emergency responders work to access the impacted area. They are not intended to be long-term shelters but are places people can register, receive nourishment and short-term shelter, get essential medical care and be scheduled for transport out of the area when needed.
When Randy Thorpe, Tillamook County Emergency Management Director, heard about these containers, he initially thought that his county wouldn’t be able to afford one. Then he learned the Conex boxes and the emergency supplies in them are being provided to Tillamook County at no cost.
“Tillamook County is grateful to ODHS for supporting our community’s emergency preparedness efforts in this way,” said Randy Thorpe (he/him), Tillamook County emergency management director. “Having these critical and lifesaving emergency supplies immediately available at an evacuation assembly point will help our community respond to and recover from a mass disaster like a Cascadia earthquake event.
Michele Bradley (she/her), general manager at Port of Tillamook Bay where the airport is located, is involved with emergency management planning in Tillamook County and collaborated with Thorpe to identify the best location for the Conex boxes and supplies to be stored.
“I’ve been a part of work groups on resilience after a disaster. I wanted us to be part of the solution. The airport is a good location and it makes sense to work with the state on this. We could easily serve the seven cities and unincorporated areas in Tillamook County,” Bradley said.
The airport is centrally located close to Clatsop and Lincoln counties, is out of the tsunami zone and is a military grade airport. It was built by the U.S. Navy in 1943 to house surveillance blimps. They determined that a location close to Near Space Corporation at the airport would be best.
Near Space Corporation tests and flies unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones for the Federal Aviation Administration. Kevin Tucker, president of Near Space Corporation also has experience in emergency preparedness planning.
“With our unmanned aerial vehicle testing and operations we are very much involved with emergency management and disaster preparedness,” said Tucker. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can for preparedness. We want to help all we can. It’s pretty much just being a good citizen.”
Also, Near Space’s operations tower and their hangars could be of use in a disaster response. Their drones could help to move critical supplies and could be used for gathering information about a disaster’s impact, for example, during a flood event to provide detailed maps.
Anyone who wants to learn more about how to prepare for emergencies can find resources at www.ready.gov.