Preparing for emergencies in Sisters


Last updated 5/2/2023 at 10:46am

The work each of us does to prepare for emergencies can make a big difference in how well we weather a crisis — both personally and as a community.

A cadre of experts in the field of emergency preparedness and response will gather on Thursday, May 11, at the Sisters Fire District’s Community Hall to talk about the range of potential emergencies that can affect Sisters Country, and practical steps we can all take to be prepared to navigate them. The forum, titled “Emergencies in Sisters Country: Be Prepared” is sponsored by Citizens4Community (C4C), runs 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sisters Fire Hall is located at 301 S. Elm St.

There are many potential emergencies that can develop in Sisters — severe winter weather and wind events; flooding; the fallout from a major coastal earthquake among them. Wildfire, however, always tops the list, and Sisters has experienced 20 years of events that have forced evacuations and disrupted the quality of life in our home country.

Experts recommend that residents have an evacuation plan, including disseminating contact information and planning evacuation routes and rendezvous points. Put together a “go-bag” or evacuation kit, including critical medications and documents, before the beginning of fire season. Most evacuations in Sisters Country have given residents a bit of time to get ready — but there have been occasions when evacuation orders have been immediate. It’s best to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Residents and visitors to the area are urged to sign up for Deschutes Alerts — emergency notifications about threats to safety. (

Sisters residents have learned the value of preparing their properties — and that work should be underway now.

“One way of protecting your home from wildfire risk is to have adequate defensible space around the property,” says panelist Tammy Taylor, a local expert on the insurance industry. “This is the buffer you create between any building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds. This will include the entryway to your home. You need to have enough space that a fire truck can easily maneuver down your driveway.”

Insurance has become a major concern for homeowners in the wildland/urban interface, with some facing nonrenewal or the inability to obtain a policy due to wildfire threat.

Taylor notes that a controversial wildfire risk map created under the auspices of Senate Bill 792 has been withdrawn for revision.

“As of now the wildfire risk map has been withdrawn for further refinement,” she said. “Insurance companies are not using that map. However, insurance carriers are using and will continue to use their own methods for wildfire scoring. They use their own risk maps and other risk management tools.

“Each insurance carrier will have their own methods and means of dealing with rates when it come to wildfire. Some are more strict than others. If you have questions or concerns, I highly advise speaking to your agent or hiring a contractor that specializes in fire fuel reduction services to help you come up with a plan for your specific property,” Taylor said.

“I also strongly suggest that you touch base with your current agent on an annual basis to review your current coverage, especially regarding the home and what type of replacement cost you have.”

Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid will be on hand. He notes that a variety of public agencies work consistently behind the scenes to protect residents and visitors in the event of emergency. Deschutes County Emergency Services Coordinator Sgt. Nathan Garibay will talk about the countywide interagency efforts, and Sisters Fire Chief Roger Johnson will discuss the range of emergencies possible in Sisters and the local planning that is always underway.

“We want to save lives, we want to protect property, we want to prevent serious injuries,” Reid said.

However, Reid encourages individuals to take responsibility for their own protection, as well.

“It’s not either-or,” he said. All the elements — public and private, agency and individual — need to come together to maximize protection.

Sisters resident Jack McGowan will speak directly to individual preparedness.

“I have been a longtime advocate for personal preparedness,” he told The Nugget. “I’m not a ‘prepper,’ but as a member of the community, that is your responsibility.”

Good personal preparation — which McGowan will provide examples of from his own personal kit — helps take the burden off potentially overwhelmed first responders.

Creating a personal preparedness kit may appear daunting — and expensive.

“I will tell people how to do that in an incremental way,” McGowan said.

Not all emergencies can be prevented or avoided. Wildfire, however, can be, at least to a degree. Many are human-caused. Reid urged the public to take responsibility for minimizing chances of wildfire.

“Follow the public use restrictions,” he said. “When it’s OK to have a campfire, make sure it’s dead out.”

Don’t create your own roads through forests, and don’t park over dry grass. Make sure your trailer chains aren’t dragging on the asphalt and creating sparks. Practice safe shooting and know that fireworks are illegal at all times on the National Forest.

“I’ll be focusing on the cohesive strategy,” Reid said of his May 11 presentation.

That involves:

• Safe, effective response to emergencies;

• Creating a resilient landscape;

• Developing fire-adapted communities.

Carrie Sammons of the Central and Eastern Oregon Chapter, Red Cross will be on hand to explain the role of Red Cross in emergencies. She worked on the response to the devastating Camp Fire in California, and also on the response to last winter’s terrible floods.

“Make a plan; have a kit,” she urges. “I’ll have our Prepare! resource guide available for people to take, and that has all that information.”

Red Cross offers shelters, three meals a day and snacks, and help for people who have lost their home in a fire or other emergency. She noted that it is valuable for evacuees to check in at a shelter, even if they don’t plan to stay there. Checking in helps family members get in contact, and helps first responders determine whether people are accounted for.

Sammons said that Red Cross’ mission is to respond to immediate needs, and they can offer referrals to people with ongoing needs (see related story, page 4).

“Emergencies in Sisters: Be Prepared,” is part of an annual series of public discussions hosted by C4C, which have covered topics from free speech to growth in Sisters to homelessness.

For more information about C4C, visit

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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