Prepare to be on your own in a major Pacific Northwest disaster

Local disaster relief may not be ready for mass response to a major event. Here's how you can watch out for you.

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You're on your own.

If a 9.0 earthquake or a tsunami wipes out homes, roads, bridges, communication, and other infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest, keep that thought in mind. You have to assume no one is coming to help you, and you may not be able to get anywhere to find help, at least for a few days.

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It's not because responders don't want to help. It's because, as disaster preparation experts agree, they aren't ready to jump with a region-wide response when something that big happens.

It's a sobering thought, and that's why you need to be ready -- now -- to be on your own.

"You're either ready, or you're not ready (when it strikes). There's no 'getting ready' from that standpoint," emergency response expert Eric Holdeman said. He has spent over two decades in emergency planning at the local, state, and federal level.

Experts like Holdeman agree emergency resources by the government are tailored for common occurrences like a flood or a landslide and are not nearly ready for a disaster for the history books.

"The thought that 'I have a problem. I'm going to call 911' is not a good planning assumption in a regional disaster because of limited resources," Holdeman said. "It doesn't take much to overwhelm the existing resources that are at hand."

If you call 911 because you broke your leg in the quake, guess what. Everyone else is calling 911, too. First responders won't be able to respond to all of you. They will likely first go to places where there is the highest concentration of people so they can do the most good at once, Holdeman said. That will be schools or nursing homes. If your house is on fire, firefighters may pass you by to get to another, larger disaster scene.

What if you can't call 911 or loved ones because cell phone towers topple? What if the electrical grid is wiped out? What if some electromagnetic pulse turns your smartphone into an expensive brick? Many of us, especially millennials, live and die on our mobile devices and may not be ready for a life-and-death situation without them.

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People have come up with multiple excuses as to why they have not developed a disaster plan. One of them, according to Holdeman, is they figure a catastrophe of that magnitude will likely kill them. But he says only two percent of the population will die in the immediate aftermath. That means you have a 98 percent chance of surviving at least the initial event, and then you will be fighting to stay alive.

That means you, your family, your school, and your business needs to be ready and know what to do right after the disaster hits. But Americans have gained a reputation for being among the developed world's worst-prepared for such a calamity.

There are some simple things you can start doing now to prepare, and you don't have to do it all at once.