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'Kits for Kids' take preparedness up a notch at tsunami-vulnerable Oregon school

Tom Banse
NW News Network
Cannon Beach Academy director Amy Fredrickson with one of the school's 55 survival kits.

How's this for emergency preparedness? An elementary school located in the tsunami inundation zone in Cannon Beach, Oregon, has equipped every student with a personal disaster survival kit.
This fall, the charter school Cannon Beach Academy expects to enroll 50 students. Director Amy Fredrickson acquired an emergency survival backpack for each and every one of them -- and for the staff too.

"We have a safety whistle. We have a glow stick and a flashlight," she recited as she unpacked one of the day packs. "We have a poncho in case it rains. We have a wool blanket."

The basic supplies also include plastic packets of drinking water and a cube of high-calorie food bars.

Fredrickson said an emergency preparedness grant from the City of Cannon Beach covered the cost of what they dubbed, "Kits for Kids." The elementary students held their first tsunami evacuation drill with the new go-bags last month.

"They feel a sense of pride you know, carrying something that is going to save them," Fredrickson said Wednesday.

She said the main issue that has come up is the bulk of the backpacks in relation to the smallest students. The survival backpack can grow as big as the upper body of a pint-sized kindergartner if a parent adds spare items like a change of clothes or a comforting stuffed animal.

"We've talked about implementing a buddy system if a little kid is tired," Fredrickson said. "Having one of the older kids help them out. That's something we're very aware of."

The personalized go-bags stay at the school year-round. They don't travel home with students after hours. Cannon Beach Academy is about three blocks from the ocean beach. It opened in 2017 as a K-3 school and  is expanding to K-5 in the 2019-2020 school year.

The public charter school sourced its Kits for Kids from Tonquin Trading, a sporting goods store in nearby Seaside, Oregon. Store owner Jason Johnson said he has pitched the kits to numerous coastal school districts in Oregon in light of the threat of a major earthquake and tsunami from the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The Cannon Beach Academy is his first school customer. A hotel in Manzanita, the Ocean Inn, recently bought similar kits from Johnson to place in its ten guest rooms.

"The hardest part is (generating) the momentum," Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. "They're very inexpensive if you think about it. Thirty dollars can get you a basic kit with 72 hours of resilience."

Other coastal school districts in the Pacific Northwest are addressing tsunami risk by relocating students out of harm's way. In Oregon, Waldport High/Middle School has completed a move to higher ground and Warrenton voters passed a school bond to start the process of moving the middle and high schools out of the tsunami zone. The Seaside School District is currently constructing a new campus outside the tsunami zone for all of its north Oregon coast students. The same is happening with the low-lying Quileute tribal school in La Push on the Washington coast.

Fredrickson said the long-term strategy in Cannon Beach to address the vulnerability of her school also involves moving to a new building uphill. But since that move to high ground might take ten years to accomplish, interim measures were needed.

Fredrickson added that with a well-equipped student body, first responders will have one fewer group to worry about whenever The Big One strikes.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.