Standing ready

Standing ready

Published: August 21, 2015

The East shudders in the path of hurricanes. The Midwest lives under the cloud of tornadoes. The West waits for an earthquake called The Big One.

And the Northwest, according to a recent story in “The New Yorker” magazine, can expect “The Really Big One.” We just don’t know when.

The damage from such a quake is so unimaginable most residents try not to imagine it. Fortunately, the University of Washington Bothell has someone thinking about the unthinkable. Say, for example, violent shaking turns a Discovery Hall lab into a hazmat zone, an evacuation route has been planned and posted on a wall. Student should look for the evacuation route signs near the elevators.

Darren Branum thinks about evacuation routes and plans what to do in a disaster as part of his job as emergency preparedness manager for the campus, working with his counterparts at Cascadia College.

Branum began working at the Bothell campus early in 2015 after moving from UW Seattle where he held the position of fire prevention and life safety specialist.

The Bothell resident is trained as a firefighter, emergency medical technician and emergency dispatcher. A fit 44-year-old, he volunteers with Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue and with emergency management for Seattle Seafair events.

Branum says the “New Yorker” story magnified a worst case scenario, but it did sound the alarm: Beware and prepare.

“It put the fear of God in them and got people talking,” he said recently at his office, which is part of the UW Bothell Campus Safety Department.

Disasters, such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan, also motivate people to take precautions. “We try to get on top of that,” Branum said. Once something happens, it’s too late.

As a young campus, UW Bothell’s new buildings are constructed to the latest seismic codes and would likely fare better than many of the older buildings in the region. But earthquakes aren’t the only emergencies on Branum’s list of potential disasters in need of preparation.

Like the university itself, Branum’s job is really about information and prompting people to think.

Not only, What would you do if really big earthquake disrupted life as we know it in the Northwest? But, What would you do without power for three days? What would students do if they couldn’t get to class for a week? Or if a fire or water main break closed a building or cut off university computers? What happens if I can’t get home?

Disaster planners use the term “business continuity” to talk about maintaining services. On a campus, that means “academic continuity,” ensuring that faculty and students continue instruction and learning. A lost week should not turn into a lost term, delaying a degree. Figure out ahead of time how to keep going, working from someplace else, Branum says.

From seven years on the Seattle UW campus, Branum knows students are tuned to the apocalypse – the zombie apocalypse. At events and meetings he talks with students about what they would do to survive a zombie horde. And if they can do that, he says, it doesn’t take much more effort to prepare to survive a fire, flood or earthquake.

He promises there will be a zombie-related disaster planning event at UW Bothell.

As a community partner, Branum says it is important to extend awareness and resources beyond the campus. In mid-September, he will invite the university and the public to experience the Shake Trailer. Once inside this trailer, visitors will get the feel of a real earthquake. Other emergency response equipment and resources will also be available.

Also coming up is a meeting in September with Branum, other university officials, the Bothell police and fire departments, the FBI, and other agencies. They will discuss how to effectively respond to various scenarios that could arise on campus.

And in October, a class of about 20 UW Bothell staffers will start a training class for the Campus Emergency Response Team.

Although he lives 10 minutes from campus, Branum keeps an emergency kit and backpack with enough supplies and clothes to live out of his office for three days. The supplies are under his desk. That’s where he plans to head first if the Really Big One hits. Then he is likely to be one of the first responders.

-- By Doug Esser for the University of Washington Bothell


A wealth of disaster planning information is available online from the University of Washington Bothell and other websites: