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PrepPost: Small Disasters, Big Impact

This week we're focusing on how to prepare for smaller natural disasters like heat waves and wildfires. These occur more often in our area. By preparing for these, you can become more prepared for Cascadia as well.
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In Washington County, we are always preparing for the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake – an overdue earthquake that is predicted to create catastrophic damage. However, more frequently, we experience smaller natural disasters like heatwaves, bad air quality, wildfires, and power outages. These disasters can have major impacts on our lives and property. Here are some tips to prepare for these disasters.


  • Older adults are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures and are more likely to experience heat related illnesses. If you live alone, call a loved one or neighbor and see if you can meet up somewhere with A/C – like the library or movie theater. If you care for or are related to an older adult who lives alone, check on them at least once a day during heatwaves.
  • Outdoor workers are more likely to become dehydrated and have health problems. If you work outside, make sure to drink a lot of water, even if you’re not feeling thirsty, wear light colored clothing and a hat, and take breaks in the shade.

Bad air quality:

  • In our area, bad air quality is usually caused by wildfire smoke. Breathing smoky air can cause coughing, asthma attacks, runny nose, sore throat, headaches, and chest pain or fast heartbeat. If you are a child, older adult, or pregnant person; if you work outdoors; or if you have an existing heart or lung condition you may more at risk for experiencing these symptoms. Start taking precautions when the AQI is 101 or higher and contact your doctor if you experience any symptoms. AQI stands for air quality index and is a measure of how clean or polluted the air outside is. The higher the number, the more unhealthy the air is.
  • You can protect yourself by staying indoors when air quality is bad, using an air purifier indoors, and using a properly fitting N95 mask when outside.


  • Wildfires usually happen between May and late September. They can cause poor air quality, evacuations of neighborhoods and communities, and power outages and public safety power shut offs (PSPS).
  • When the weather is hot, dry, and windy, power companies may shut off power to certain areas to prevent power lines from sparking and starting a wildfire during dangerous weather. This is called a Public Safety Power Shut Off (PSPS). The power may be shut off for hours or days. During this time, there may also be unplanned power outages, so it’s a good idea to prepare even if you’re not in a PSPS area. Learn how to prepare for an outage and see if you are in a PSPS area:
  • Review the evacuation levels and make an evacuation plan. Consider where you will go, multiple routes to get there, and whether you can leave quickly or if you’ll need more time to evacuate.  Also identify who your supports would be during an evacuation, if necessary, and have a plan for how you would contact them.

Being prepared for the more frequent natural disasters will not only help you and your family stay safe during heatwaves, wildfires and bad air quality days, but will also make you more resilient and prepared for the Cascadia earthquake.

Ready to learn more? Watch FEMA Region 10's webinar on older adult preparedness

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