Emergency responders learn from Oso tragedy, plan to be better prepared for next disaster

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OSO, Wash. -- It’s been nearly two years since a deadly landslide took the lives of 43 people near the small town of Oso.

The mud and debris that came crashing down forever changed dozens of families … and their community.

Now, emergency responders hope to learn from the disaster in hopes to be better prepared for the next one.

“You can see the ribbons coming apart but we’ve got new ribbons coming,” said Dayn Brunner as he walked along rows of trees that honor each victim of the March 22, 2014, landslide.

Brunner said he remembers the slide like it was only yesterday.

“We’re still reeling,” he said, “We’re still healing.”

Only days after landslide, Brunner and his family finally pulled his sister, Summer Raffo, from the wreckage.

Summer had been driving along State Route 530 when the wall of mud crashed into her car, tossing it hundreds of feet, killing her.

“I don’t want my sister Summer to die for nothing, that her legacy lives on one way or the other,” said Brunner.

Inside the Oso Fire Department building on Tuesday, elected officials, emergency crews and scientists hoped to learn how to bring calm to the next chaotic emergency.

“This is a community that knows the devastation that can happen with a natural disaster,” said Rep. Susan DelBene, D-Wash.

The slide cut electronic communications of emergency responders in half.

Some agencies couldn’t easily talk to each other because they simply used different radio frequencies.

After the slide, first-responders made plans to ensure communications between different agencies wasn’t a hassle.

From earthquakes, to tsunamis, floods to volcanic eruptions, the threats in the Pacific Northwest could impact millions of people.

But the lessons learned by first-responders during the Oso tragedy are now part of the playbook for the next disaster.

“Maybe having a better plan before it happens instead of reacting to it,” said Oso Fire Department Chief Willie Harper.

But for families like Brunner’s, no amount of preparation could help stem the pain after losing a loved one in a disaster.

“We hope that in the future that agencies take note using this as an example,” he said, “That my sister’s death wasn’t a death in vain.”

Emergency officials tell me the biggest part of any emergency response comes from the public.

They encourage everyone of have enough food and water to last up to 10 days – and also it’s a good idea to make a plan on how your family members will reunite after a disaster.


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