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Is Nevada Prepared For Disasters?

A city of Las Vegas fire truck sits on a flooded street during a flash flood in 2003.
Associated Press

A city of Las Vegas fire truck sits on a flooded street during a flash flood in 2003.

It seems the world is being pummeled by disaster right now.

There are hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires … and they’re not too far from home.

With the number of disasters in the world, you have to wonder: How prepared is Nevada? 

“Certainly, earthquakes are at the top of the list, wildfires and flooding those are the top three,” Irene Navis, the assistant emergency manager for Clark County told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Nevada is the third most seismically active state in the nation, outside of California and Alaska.

But Navis said most of the quakes in Nevada are relatively small, but they're still monitored in case they damage infrastructure. 

As far as fires, years of drought have left the Southern Nevada landscape parched and highly susceptible to wildfires.

The Carpenter One fire on Mount Charleston in 2013 burned thousands of acres and threatened homes on the mountain. But, no one was hurt and only a few unoccupied buildings were destroyed.

The disaster most people in Southern Nevada are the most familiar with is flash flooding. The summer's monsoon season brings torrential rain in just a few minutes causing streets to fill with rushing water.

However, over the years, the Regional Flood Control District has worked to minimize the damage flood waters can cause.

 "A lot of folks don't realize that the roadways and the flood control channels those are all designed to work together to move the water from one place to another," Navis said.

She said people believe a flooded street means the flood control measures aren't working but in reality, it means it is working and people need to find an alternate route around that flooded street.

Reno also has its share of flooding and this past winter after record snow and rainfall, the Truckee River overflowed its banks.

Aaron Kenneston is the emergency management for Washoe County. He said flood control efforts after a devastating flood in 1997 has improved the area.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the decades putting in additional sensors and early warning devices and doing things like raising bridges, creating a living river – giving it more room to expand,” he said.

While disaster preparedness measures are in place now, it cost millions of dollars to establish them. 

Kenneston said the thing that makes Nevada a safe place to live is the thing that makes it difficult to be ready when disaster does strike.

“When you live in a region that doesn’t have giant hazards every day or really even that frequently compared to other parts of the country, it is hard to spur citizens and our elected officials into action as far as spending large amounts of dollars on mitigation,” he said.

Carolyn Levering is the emergency manager for the city of Las Vegas and she agrees that without the constant threat of tornadoes or hurricanes, a sense of complacency settles in.

“We develop a sense of security that it can’t happen here," she said, "It won’t happen to me. If it does happen to me, it won’t be that bad and if it is that bad the cavalry will arrive.”

But Levering noted, the state's population centers, especially Las Vegas, are surrounded by a lot of empty land, which means getting resource here after a disaster could take a long time. 

That is why everyone in emergency management in Nevada says it is up to individuals to be prepared for the worst with water, food, medicine, blankets, first aid kits, an AM radio and batteries, and an emergency plan. 

“If every citizen in Nevada would take the time to make a personal emergency plan, build a supplies kit, and stay informed we would be a much safer region,” Kenneston said.

Both Northern and Southern Nevada offer workshops on being prepared with information on basic first aid, search and rescue, and emergency skills. The Community Emergency Response Team provides those skills and prepares regular citizens to be volunteers when disaster strikes.

"We like to train people how to do those basic things for themselves... just to empower them to give them some knowledge and some skills  to be ready for an emergency," Levering said.


Southern Nevada CERT

FEMA: Protect Your Property

Southern Nevada Health District: Emergency Preparedness

Carolyn Levering, emergency manager, City of Las Vegas; Aaron Kenneston, emergency manager, Washoe County; Irene Navis, assistant emergency manager, Clark County

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.