An expert on communication styles to motivate families to prepare for disasters shares her own family's readiness plans in Boise and Seattle.
Carson MacPherson-Krutsky is the co-founder of Hazard and Climate Resilience Institute at the Boise State University in Boise, ID and a Research Associate at Natural Hazards Center in Boulder, CO. Her research work centers on identifying what motivates people to prepare for disasters. She specifically investigates the risk communication styles most effective to bring on the behavior change for better preparedness in the Portland Metropolitan Area. She spoke with us recently. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Where do you live now and how big is your family?
I live in Boise, Idaho. I rent a single family residential home with a roommate and a cat. So there's two humans and one animal with us. And my mom lives in Seattle which is where I grew up so I consider that part of my family as well but we're in different places.
What kind of disasters have you faced in your lifetime?
When I was 10, I experienced the 2001 Nisqually earthquake that happened in Washington state. It was a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that was felt broadly in the Seattle area and caused significant damage. I still remember the experience vividly. Luckily, we didn't have any damage at our home.
Another disaster I experienced impacted me differently. I wasn't directly affected by the 2014 Oso mudslide in northern Washington. It was the deadliest landslide in US history with 43 people killed. But it was an unfortunate disaster in the sense that there was a lot of historical scientific information available about the instability of the hillside where people were living, but somehow that information just didn't make it to people who were living there or the people who were making decisions about where to build homes.
The Oso mudslide happened right before I was starting my master's program. The challenges with communicating risk before that landslide pushed me into this space. I was really inspired by the idea of figuring out the best ways to communicate the science of risk to help inform policy making and decision making. Lastly, I experienced an earthquake in 2020. The epicenter was about three hours north of Boise, but we felt the shaking. And I did drop, cover and hold under my desk.
What kind of hazards have you developed a household emergency plan for?
The most common hazards in the Boise area are wildfires and flooding. My home is in an area where the flooding is not really an issue because I'm up at a higher level. And I'm pretty far away from the wildland urban interfaces where the risk of fire is maximum. Earthquakes are possible in Boise though that is a little bit lower risk. So honestly, I'm in a pretty low hazard area. Although of course, things like house fires and those kinds of things can happen.
I think most about my mom in Seattle where the earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone is a big possibility. A lot of my friends that I grew up with also live there. I am their out-of-town contact person that they can reach out to when the disaster happens and the local cell service is down. They would use me as somebody who could connect people and convey messages between them.
How have you helped your mom develop her preparedness plan?
I would say our plan is somewhat informal. She and I have had a lot of conversations about getting ready. I have sent paperwork to get her started with her preparedness plan. My mother is really involved with the Seattle Emergency Communications Hub which is a predetermined location where neighbors can gather in case of a major disaster to help each other and to relay information about local situations and needs. And so basically, our plan is she would make it to that communication node in our neighborhood, and then she would be with a group of other volunteers who are trained or have been planning what they would do in the event of an emergency.
In terms of our home, I've been working with my mom to think about how to secure the bookcases in the house. The one specifically I am thinking about is right over the stairway. Next time I'm home I plan to help secure that bookshelf because I'm worried about it creating a barrier in exiting the house.
She's owned that home for almost 28 years so she's pretty familiar with the locations and process of gas shut offs, water turn off and electrical shut off. She's pretty smack dab in the middle of the city in South Seattle so there's not a wildfire risk. There would be more home fire risks. And that's not something that we've had a lot of conversations about.
We have talked about creating a digital folder where she will keep all the important documents. A year ago, I created a checklist that includes the documents to backup. But I wanted to make one that was a little more fun. Had some interesting visuals and stuff. My mom is using that to back up documents now.
Lastly, her neighborhood is incredibly connected. She knows, like 20 of the neighbors all around her. And so I have no doubt that they would be able to lean on each other in the event of a disaster. I strongly believe building a community around oneself is a key element to be ready for a disaster.