BURLINGTON — In the event of a natural disaster, the ability for individuals and families to take refuge and protect themselves is extremely important. And for that, preparation is key.

“For the most part people are not prepared and that’s why hazards become disasters,” Western Washington University student Pam Melton told the Skagit Valley Herald Tuesday.

Melton and two other WWU students pursuing an undergraduate minor in disaster risk reduction joined county and city officials in Burlington Tuesday to discuss Skagit County’s hazard mitigation strategies.

The group of students is partnering with the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management to provide public outreach materials and ideas for the Skagit County Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan update as a class project.

The students are working on trifold pamphlets directed at elderly and Hispanic residents who may not have easy access to information online, which is primarily provided in English.

They also plan to develop a sample webpage that the county could reference as a template.

Their goal is to carefully craft the text and select images that encourage people to take the initiative to get prepared, rather than eliciting a sense of despair, they said.

“They know the hazards, and now the question is, ‘What do we do?’ ” WWU student Quinn Butler said of area residents.

The partnership with the university is a first-time effort.

Skagit County Department of Emergency Management Director Mark Watkinson called it a “win-win,” and credits the development to longtime planning partner Jenny Hinderman with the Skagit Conservation District.

Hinderman is the district’s fire-wise coordinator, and is helping write a first-time climate change piece for the wildlife section of the mitigation plan.

“I think the more we are prepared, the better off we’ll be,” she said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Climate change is becoming less and less deniable, and local data trends show drier summers and more acres burned by wildfires in Skagit’s future, Hinderman said.

Tuesday was the third in a series of monthly meetings to gather public input regarding the plan update.

So far, the county has received a lot of requests to provide more information to citizens, and it’s an initiative they agree is important.

“That’s our No. 1 goal, is to educate the public,” Emergency Management hazards mitigation specialist Kerri Love said.

Emergency Management is leading the update of Skagit County’s multijurisdiction mitigation plan, as required under federal law.

A final public meeting may be held in June, or Emergency Management may proceed with establishing a draft, Watkinson said.

He anticipates a draft being ready for review by August.

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