SERIES: Is Southern Oregon Prepared for a Mass Emergency?

Part 3 of 3: "You may want to have more than 2 days worth of food in your fridge," Steve said. "You may just want to have a few basics set aside just so you’re not immediately in some sort of food line or a water line waiting to feed your kids.”

Posted: Nov. 30, 2017 9:35 AM
Updated: Nov. 30, 2017 10:18 AM

MEDFORD, Ore. -- When the clock strikes midnight this Jan. 1, 2018, it'll mark 21 years since the historic Ashland flood.

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Since that flood, the city adapted its water system so something like that wouldn't happen again. Except, large parts of it rely on electricity.

On October 12, a now defunded commission warned Congress our power grid could be damaged or destroyed from a North Korea attack, or a space weather incident.

The commission was dedicated to warning Congress about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats. The commission says an EMP weapon could be detonated high in the atmosphere above our country. That detonation would act as a massive energy pulse, and could could damage or destroy anything with an electric circuit -- including hospital life support systems, cars driving down the street, or city water systems.

Police, cities, hospitals, and citizens alike all prepare for natural and man-made disasters. Having emergency supplies on hand during such an event can be lifesaving, as was shown as parts of our country recover from devastating wildfires and hurricanes.

Steve, who prefers to keep his last name private, is former military intelligence and was a National Guard member on the rescue teams during the Ashland flood. 

He studied North Korea's military tactics for a decade.

"You may want to have more than 2 days worth of food in your fridge," Steve said. "You may just want to have a few basics set aside just so you’re not immediately in some sort of food line or a water line waiting to feed your kids.”

Aaron Ott, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Asante Rogue Regional in Medford, says the hostipal follows the guidelines for healthcare safety. However, he says he hasn't seen any spefic plan for an EMP, which could potentially damage hospital life support systems.

"Unfortunately in today’s society, everything is IT driven now," Ott said. "So in an EMP, we do not know what the effects would be. Again, it depends on location and the size of the device, but yeah it is a concern."

Military systems have electric circuits too.

"So while we don’t typically discuss any of our plans, and we don’t necessarily train for that specifically, we are constantly training and practicing scenarios where we would respond in case of an emergency," Jennifer Shirar, the public affairs superintendent for the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Airbase.

An EMP would affect the power grid. According to Pacific Power, power lines have different levels of "hardening" to survive natural disasters. It says if electrical transformers detect a pulse, they can shut themselves off.

While no one interviewed for this story has a plan specific to an EMP, everyone had some mass emergency plan in place.

“We in Jackson County do not have specific EMP response plan. Our worst days that we plan for is a Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake, which would be very similar in our response," Sara Rubrecht, the emergency manager for Jackson County. "If we had a large Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, many of the electrical systems would be out. We would be limited on what tools we have.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn't feel an EMP is a large enough threat to harden the entire grid. Federal and independent groups are still researching the effects of a high-powered EMP. There is a three-year Department of Energy study happening right now.

The exact extent of the North Korea EMP and missile threat remains to be scene. Regardless, Steve says we should be prepared for mass emergencies regardless.

"I think it’s something important people should know about, if nothing else, just to get some basic preparedness," Steve said.

To read more about how the sun poses an EMP threat, click here.

To read more about what an EMP is, and what it would affect, click here.

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