Are You Prepared?

Contributed by Debra McGhan

A snowmobile checks out the run out zone from an Avalanche in Hatcher Pass. Photo by S. Carter

A snowmobile checks out the run out zone from an Avalanche in Hatcher Pass. Photo by S. Carter

As the white coat of termination dust appears on area mountain peaks and begins creeping down the slopes, memories of winter emergencies and disasters remind me of what can happen. I remember the house my father built burning to the ground one winter when a crack in our furnace caused fuel to leak on the carpet. 

I’ll never forget the photo of my Dad, published on the front page of the Anchorage Times, standing in the snow with tears streaming down his face as he watched all his hard-earned money and years of sweat go up in a charred puff of smoke. We were left with only the clothes on our backs and no plan. That experience taught me a lot about the importance of having emergency bags and a ‘what would you do if…’ plan.

Over the years I’ve been impacted by earthquakes, winter storms and the loss of my husband who was killed in a landslide. I know disasters and emergencies can and do strike when we least expect them. Are you prepared? 

The national emergency preparedness committee has declared September Emergency and Disaster Preparedness month. For the past six years, Alaskan residents and visitors have had the opportunity to learn new skills to protect their families and get prepared at the annual Emergency Preparedness Expo. 

Heather Ridge, with the Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services Department, says this year’s expo will be bigger and better than ever. Featuring more than 50 different exhibits and vendors, the Expo is set for September 17th from 11 am to 3 pm at the Menard Sports Center.

“For the past few years we have held this event at the Mat-Su College, but due to the interest and growing size of the event, we made the decision to move it to the Menard Sports Center in order to accommodate more exhibits and to serve more residents,” explained Ridge.

This year’s expo is made possible thanks to AARP Alaska with support from the Matanuska-Susitna Local Emergency Planning Committee, the American Red Cross, and a host of local organizations and businesses who all share a mission to help residents be prepared in the event of an emergency or disaster.

A home was flooded by the rising Matanuska River. Photo by J. Wake

A home was flooded by the rising Matanuska River. Photo by J. Wake

If you never been impacted by an avalanche, fire, flood, car accident or other natural disaster, you might think, “It won’t happen to me.” That’s exactly what most people who have been affected say before it happens to them. 

The headlines are full of stories of people saying, “In all my years I have never seen…” Judy and Tom Wake of Palmer thought that before they woke up to the sound of rushing water one morning and discovered their home on the Matanuska River was washing away in a flood. 

The weather is ever changing. We have seen milder winters, hotter summers, more rain, more snow. Without a crystal ball, we have no way of knowing what the seasons will bring. This is your chance to prepare for a host of scenarios that range from avalanches to fire to floods to medical emergencies and more. 

“This year’s Expo will once again feature the popular disaster experience rooms that allow visitors the chance to see how they might react to a specific emergency,” explained Ridge. “In addition, we will be conducting community exercises that will train you and your family on what to do and how to prepare for a host of potential disasters or emergencies.” 

The expo will also feature a poster contest. The contest is open to everyone from youth, ages 5 to 18, with an additional category this year for adults, ages 19 and up. Draw a picture to share what emergency preparedness means to you for a chance to win a kit with supplies for your family. Grand prizes will be awarded in six age categories and presented at the Mat-Su Borough Assembly meeting following the expo. The posters will be on display at the expo for community judging and viewing.

“This is a family friendly affair and features lots of great information, hands on activities, give-a-way items, disaster experiences, the poster contest, community exercises, supplies for purchase, and much more,” said Ridge.  “There will be dozens of professionals on hand to provide assistance and training. The first 100 people will also receive a special kit thanks to AARP Alaska.”

A home in the glow of the Miller’s Reach Fire. Photo courtesy of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Emergency Services.

A home in the glow of the Miller’s Reach Fire. Photo courtesy of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Emergency Services.

You can reserve your kit by pre-registering online at

There is no fee to attend, however new this year will be the opportunity to purchase emergency kit supplies. Want to be an exhibitor and help your community get prepared? “There is no fee to have a booth, but we request a donated prize for the silent auction and/or door prize raffle,” said Ridge. Deadline to register as an exhibitor is August 20th. 
Remember, emergencies and disasters are not a matter of if, but when. This is your opportunity to ensure your family has the supplies, skills and plan needed to make it an inconvenience, not a tragedy. 

Whether it’s an earthquake or an avalanche, don’t just talk about getting prepared; take the steps to ensure you are ready. Attend this free community expo made possible thanks to AARP Alaska. Learn more or register today by calling Heather Ridge at 907-841-1674 or online at

You can learn more about Debra McGhan at