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Bellingham
Thursday, January 28, 2021

City devises improved emergency preparation measures

A tsunami evacuation route sign in downtown Bellingham near the Waterfront District on Monday, Nov. 11. // Photo by Merrideth McDowell

By Merrideth McDowell

Having extra long-lasting food, water and medicine can be a matter between life and death in the case of a natural disaster or emergency. Plus, living along the Cascadia Subduction Zone means an earthquake has the potential to wipe out the entire Northwest region, according to Lynn Sterbenz, emergency manager for the City of Bellingham. Community education on emergency preparation is important, and the average citizen is greatly underprepared. 

This year brought  many new installments to help the emergency management in Bellingham. Some of the new installments include tsunami modeling videos and evacuation maps that will be accessible through the City of Bellingham website. 

Sterbenz advises that Bellingham residents and businesses familiarize themselves with this. If a large earthquake were to occur, tsunami potential is high for the Bellingham area.

The City also created new measures to help ensure the smoothest emergency protocol for the community. In early 2019, the Office of Emergency Management formed the Bellingham Auxiliary Communication Service (BACS). 

Along with this, the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Communications Plan, was introduced this year. The goal of this plan is to enhance the accessibility of safety information for everyone, including non-English speakers.

Sterbenz is in charge of handling the new installments for Bellingham residents and helping to ensure that people are informed on emergency preparation. 

“The most important change is the addition of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to our existing alert and notification system in November of this year,” Sterbenz said. 

This makes it easier for mass broadcasting of messaging emergency news through multiple avenues at once.

City Council Member Gene Knutson elaborated on Bellingham’s recent improvements of winter storm protocol. 

“We’ve stepped up our police patrols, which is in case of a natural disaster,” Knutson said. 

A larger police force means more widespread aid on the account of an emergency.

The city council approves emergency protocol for the Bellingham, and it is usually revised every few years if needed to accommodate any environmental changes. After the adopted plan, emergency preparation staff take over the details. 

On preparedness, Council Member Michael Lilliquist doubts most citizens are truly prepared to sustain themselves. 

“I wonder how many people are receiving the new advice,” Lilliquist said. “Having a gallon of water extra isn’t enough anymore.” 

Sterbenz advises people to be prepared for sustaining two weeks without food or water for all members of the household including pets.

Sterbenz stressed how important it is for businesses to be prepared in our community. 


According to Sterbenz, if you are a business owner, some important things to consider in preparation are: 

  • Who are your essential employees? 
  • How will you contact your employees after a disaster? 
  • Is there a way for people to work remotely if they are unable to get to work? 
  • How will your supplies be replenished if the highway system is damaged? 
  • Do you have enough savings in case your business needs to remain closed for a few weeks? 
  • Do you have earthquake insurance? 
  • Please reach out to your local emergency manager for further questions about business continuity planning. 

It is advised that people familiarize themselves with evacuation maps, on the account that roads or bridges are down, according to Sterbenz. 


“After a major disaster, 40% of small businesses never reopen and another 25% go out of business a year later” Sterbenz said. “Without these businesses, people are unemployed, children have a hard time going back to school, and the goods and services the community relies on are gone.”

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