By Ann McCreary
Hayley Riach, who worked as a disaster case manager after the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire, has recently become coordinator of Methow Ready.
Having helped people recover from disaster, Riach said she welcomes the opportunity to help people become better prepared to help themselves and their neighbors cope during future emergencies. “I’m a preparedness nerd,” Riach said.
“I was really moved by our community’s resiliency and connectedness” in the wake of the Carlton Complex, Riach said. “Folks shared a lot of stories with me. What we saw in the Carlton Complex was that emergency response was overwhelmed. In every major disaster, your neighbors become your first responders.”
Prior to working as a disaster case manager, Riach was a wildland firefighter for nine years. She brings perspective gained from her experience on the front lines of natural disasters to her new work in disaster preparedness.
“In the past, I was responsible for making some decisions on which houses we could safely protect,” Riach said.
“It’s kind of come full circle for me from being an initial attack firefighter,” Riach said. “It’s been really cool for me to part of the response, and through disaster case management hear the stories and help people recover, and now be part of preparedness.”
In addition to her part-time work for Methow Ready, Riach, a Twisp resident, is lead advocate at Room One.
Methow Ready was formed after Carlton Complex Fire by the Methow Valley Long Term Recovery organization. Methow Ready’s goal is helping local residents prepare to meet emergencies through education and information.
A primary focus of Methow Ready is hosting neighborhood leader training sessions to teach people how to organize their neighbors and develop a neighborhood disaster plan.
“We’re helping people get prepared for themselves, and prepare their families and help their neighborhoods get prepared,” Riach said.
Although the Methow Valley has not experienced a significant natural disaster for more than a year, Riach said the memories of past wildfires and floods and interest in disaster preparedness still seem to be strong here.
A neighborhood leader training session last month in Twisp drew 15 people. “I was pleased with the participation,” she said.
“It can be hard, the further we get away from events, to motivate people” to prepare for future crises, she said. “The data says that’s what happens. I was concerned about that, but I don’t see that happening here in the Methow.”
“I like this comment from a neighborhood leader about neighborhood-based disaster readiness,” Riach said: “‘We have such a strong community. If anyone can do this, it’s us.’”
The training sessions are aimed at preparing neighborhoods to be self-reliant during the first hours of a disaster, when traditional first responders are overwhelmed by demand.
Participants in the trainings learn how to connect with their neighbors and hold an organizational meeting in their neighborhood.
The trainings teach people the steps to take immediately following a disaster to secure their homes and protect their neighborhood, and how to identify the skills and equipment each neighbor has that could be useful in an effective disaster response.
Neighborhood leaders learn to create a neighborhood map showing the locations of propane tanks. Leaking gas is the cause of more than half of house fires following disasters.
The map also shows the locations of neighbors who may need extra help in a disaster, such as elderly, persons with disabilities, or children who are home alone during certain times of the day. Leaders also set up a location for a neighborhood gathering site.
Riach said another training session will be held this fall. For information about Methow Ready, visit the website at www.methowready.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.