Living life in the Last Frontier is like nothing else in this world. Those who choose to live in what probably is the last greatest wilderness state in our Union benefit from the many opportunities that our great state has to offer. From glaciers, countless rivers, lakes, mountain ranges that stretch for miles to vast swaths of tundra, Alaska is truly like no other place on earth. But with all of its beauty and majesty come the realities that we live in a land where nature truly holds sway over the designs of men. A beautiful and peaceful landscape can be instantly transformed by the forces around us. The earthquake of 1964 scarred the land in ways that five decades later have not been able to erase.
Another disaster not known to many took place in 1958 in Lituya Bay in the Southeastern portion of the state. An earthquake triggered a rockslide that in turn created a megatsunami that destroyed vegetation up to 1722 feet above the bay with a wave that crested at an estimated 98 feet in height. If such a disaster would’ve occurred in a highly populated area of the state, the devastation would have been incalculable.
Disasters will happen and in the land of the midnight sun they can be greatly amplified by its vastness and remoteness. Being prepared to face the challenges presented when calamity strikes cannot be underestimated for first responders and other professionals in charge of protecting the public health of Alaska residents.
On April 27th and 28th of 2017 members of the DEC’s Food Safety Program joined other professionals from the Municipality of Anchorage, the Public Health Service and members of industry in order to participate in a training to address food safety issues in the event of disasters. This training was provided in partnership with NEHA and the FDA. During this course valuable lessons and concepts were discussed. Some of the topics included situational assessments, inspectional concerns, salvage and other strategies that relate to facilities impacted by a natural or man-made disaster.
Being able to witness the many challenges and difficulties that first responders faced following major disasters was truly an eye opening experience. From the devastation heaped by hurricanes along the gulf and the east coast to the major flooding that occurred in Texas after heavy periods of thunderstorms to the aftermath of the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daishi nuclear facility, the many challenges faced by Environmental professionals were simply astonishing.
One of the DEC’s Food Safety Program Managers reflected on this training and its implications. “We face so many different types of natural disasters in Alaska- from spring flooding on the Yukon during break up, to forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis and even volcanoes” stated Lorinda Lhotka, Section Manager from the DEC’s Fairbanks office. “Let alone our food supply getting somehow cut off if a natural disaster was to hit the northwest of the US and shipping was interrupted. We must remember the consequences of just a few days without the barge or the Al-Can being closed due to fires or flooding,” she added.
It is clear that being prepared for a natural or man-made disaster is imperative for Environmental Health professionals. Trainings such as these help make us stronger and more effective in carrying our mission to protect the public health, regardless of the circumstance we find ourselves in.