ELKTON — Highway 138W between Sutherlin and Elkton still bears evidence of the most destructive snowstorm in decades.
Downed Douglas fir trees riddle the side of the road; guard rails are smashed to the ground where trees fell. Roofs on abandoned barns are caved in. Some downed power lines have yet to be removed, although power has been completely restored to the area — there’s still no power at the local transfer station, however.
At the Elkton City Council’s regular meeting Thursday, councilors discussed how to prepare for the next natural disaster. It’s a conversation many towns in Douglas County have started after being completely cut off from the outside world for days.
Areas of north Douglas County were hit particularly hard as heavy rain started Feb. 23, turned to snow the next day and persisted for days after. Many Elkton residents reported more than a foot of snow on their properties. Highways in and out of town didn’t reopen for almost a week after the storm started, and most residents were without power for more than three weeks as the snow caused a Douglas Electric Cooperative system-wide outage.
“Overall, we handled the storm pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Mayor Daniel Burke at the Thursday meeting.
Councilors said the community of 210 residents came together to make sure people were safe, but they agreed to start creating more emergency preparedness procedures.
City Councilor Ryan Fall, who is also a volunteer firefighter, shared a worksheet, which listed his ideas for better emergency preparedness. It included creating easy-to-read, event-specific fliers that could advise people how to prepare for severe storms, earthquakes, fires and even epidemics or other civil emergencies.
“I’ve seen other locations have a quick disbursement flier,” Ryan said. “I think that’s probably where our community could have benefitted the most — quick dissemination of information. You’ll see on here: places to go, what is the actual danger level, what are road and transportation like.”
The worksheet included creating a place in town where people could write information about elderly or disabled family members who need to be checked on by first responders in an emergency.
Much of the conversation surrounded creating communication systems when cellular towers are down as they were during the recent snowstorm.
“The county had some significant issues with its communication towers,” Burke said.
Fall said downed towers stifled first-responders.
“Our 911 went down, and our repeaters for the fire department were in dead zones,” he said.
Jerry Burke, Mayor Burke’s brother who recently purchased a property in Elkton after years living out of the area, said at the Thursday meeting people trapped in town need to be able to notify family out of town they are safe.
“You can do all your communications here, but you’ve got two, three generations outside of the area who are trying to find out who’s what,” Burke said.
Jenny Peddicord, who recently purchased the Elkton Masonic Lodge, said at the meeting she would be open to establishing the lodge as an emergency shelter in town.
“We’ve seen in the historical records that the lodge was used for things like evacuation during the flood in the 1960s, the famous Christmas flood,” Peddicord said. “We’d be happy to potentially be a place to go.”
Councilors said they want to form a committee composed of community members who want to start creating emergency preparedness procedures and resources.
City Council also voted to accept a $5,000 donation from the Jordan Cove Energy Project for emergency relief efforts, which are ongoing.
“The city has some funding, but it really doesn’t help,” Burke said about the donation.
City Council President Joan Smith said an upcoming community dinner at the school in May could be an opportunity to talk with residents about forming an emergency preparedness committee.
“It’s to bring people back together after the disaster,” Smith said. “Everybody liked being together, you know, so if we can put the two together, I think it’s a good idea.”