Tasked with a mission of informing local communities with how various agencies respond to disasters, Lt. Rusty Wilder spoke last month to the Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition during a meeting at Gig Harbor Fire’s headquarters.
Wilder, a Gig Harbor resident, is the Pierce County Sheriff Department’s detachment commander for the Peninsula Detachment embracing the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, Fox Island, Anderson Island and McNeal Island. Wilder is also detachment commander for the Mountain and Foothills detachments. His children attend Peninsula High School.
The purpose of Wilder’s presentation was to outline services the sheriff department personnel he supervises could be expected to provide in the event of a major catastrophe. PEP-C has long advised that community response must focus not on “if,” but rather on “when” a major disaster will occur, including catastrophes such as a high Richter Scale earthquake, the possible eruption of Mount Rainier, an intensified version of the day after Christmas 1996 ice storm which shut down roads, power, water supply, and other resources for days on end, or a similar major disruption to normal communications, transportation and supplies.
Wilder knows his turf well, having earlier in his career served as sergeant in charge of the Peninsula Detachment. His experiences working in SWAT, Search & Rescue (SAR), Investigations, Traffic control, and in PCSD Training give him excellent perspectives on his detachment’s areas of responsibility, which includes 221 square miles of territory including three islands, 144 square miles of coastline, and 693 miles of roads while serving a population of 54,844 local area residents.
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His deputies work assignments in such special units as SWAT and SAR, handle active investigations, support community functions, and handle training. Under normal elevated emergency conditions, additional staff will be called in and duty priorities will change. Some tasks may be placed on hold and dispatching protocols may change. Lower priority calls for assistance may not be handled immediately. A catastrophic major earthquake or other event where the entire region is severely disrupted will affect how responders work. Authorities expect that even though state and national resources will be requested, there will be limited communication and limited response capability for a lengthy period.
“Wilder provided a depth of understanding on how law enforcement will respond that shows PCSD takes our concerns and issues seriously and will respond with practical considerations during a major crisis,” PEP-C general chair Curt Scott said. “This helps PEP-C prepare our communities to understand what to expect. We are very fortunate to have Wilder and the rest of our local law enforcement officers working and living in our communities.”
Scott added, “We need to develop a plan for neighborhood emergency action teams (NEATs), in which each NEAT adapts to the specific needs of each neighborhood. We then must train the teams and residents. Wilder used the example of the muskox herd, which circles those needing protection. PEP-C needs to train our communities to put those needing protection in the center of the circle then face out and prepare to protect and care for our neighborhoods.”
PEP-C co-secretary Virginia Guilford said, “he reminded us that often, safety from crime can be improved by gathering together in groups for protection, safety in numbers. It was made clear to us that our theme, YOYO, or You’re On Your Own, accurately describes our circumstances and how we need to think and act in a catastrophic event situation.”
Wilder noted that his personnel participated in the recent Peninsula Multi-Agency Coordinating Center (MACC) exercises and participated in last year’s area earthquake disaster preparedness exercise, “Cascadia Rising.”
Although the Peninsula Detachment continues to do everything possible to prepare, it will have limitations, explained Wilder, who stressed the following safety considerations that we as individuals should consider: safety of self both at home and away; safety of one’s residence; and safety at work. He emphasized preparedness plans for individuals, structural design adjustments for residential buildings, and emergency communications strategies for families and neighborhoods.
PEP-C encourages public involvement and invites those interested to attend the next PEP-C general meeting, at 10 a.m. Feb. 8 at Gig Harbor Fire station, 10222 Bujacich Road NW.