County develops emergency prep plan
March 11, 2009 · Updated 4:44 PM
Kitsap County weathers annual disasters, emerging each year in an increased state of preparedness for the next flood or storm. In the meantime, county government is in the middle of revamping its disaster strategy, developing a procedures to keep government running during the next cataclysmic event.
“Back in the early 2000s, after the last earthquake, there was a massive effort to prepare for a major disaster,” said Tim Perez, the county’s risk manager. “After a while, we paid less attention to this — until a few years ago, when we started to increase training and employee involvement for the next incident.”
The recent floods and storms, while devastating, have a short-term effect. Once the snow melts and the water subsides, there may be considerable property damage that can last a while.
On the other hand, disaster personnel are staying alert about a potentially more damaging event, such as a terrorist attack or a large earthquake — which are, respectively, possible and inevitable, according to experts.
The disaster strategy will be coordinated from a control center, a converted 10-by-30-foot refrigerator truck that will house approximately eight people from various departments, and will make decisions about how to manage the personnel who are on the county campus when the disaster strikes.
The vehicle, which was purchased after the last earthquake and subsequently located in several places, now sits to the east of the Kitsap County Jail, outside the perimeter fence.
It has not been furnished or equipped with computers, but is wired for electricity (direct and from attached generators), telephone and Internet — although the latter two will probably rely on wireless technology.
The space has no windows. There is a heater, which may become unnecessary due to the generated body heat and activity by eight people.
The center contains portable latrine facilities. There is no air conditioning, but doors can be opened on both ends to create a cross-breeze.
If there is a toxic gas event, the doors can’t be left open.
In that case, the center will be moved to another location, where electricity and communication lines are available.
There are some obvious aspects to emergency management, such as establishing communications channels and a chain of command.
In this case, the default leader of the emergency effort is County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan, who would take charge of the control center while the commissioners themselves would move to the main emergency command center in Bremerton.
Current emergency training includes mapping out escape routes from each building and specific gathering places for each department.
Once assembled, someone will be charged with taking attendance, to determine if any one person is missing or injured.
If computer systems are still active, then taking attendance will be more efficient due to the availabilities of e-mail to determine scheduling.
If they are not, people will be tracked through a buddy system, with co-workers relying on memory as to who is supposed to be where at what time.
Which leads to the biggest variable with regard to emergency management: Even as government prepares for the 10 most likely options, the 11th will most likely occur.
While it is probable that an earthquake will hit the region in the near future, its strength and location are impossible to predict.
With the 2001 quake, there was no warning and unpredictable aftershocks.
As preparation and training continue, disaster workers are aware that an earthquake could occur as soon as five minutes from now. Perez is prepared for this possibility, saying that if an event happens the county will be able to pull together the resources in order to maintain governmental operations.
Even so, the scope of the county operation does not extend around the clock. The control center’s purpose is to manage personnel who are on-site, and will probably not even assemble should the disaster occur after working hours.
“Our main task is to tell people what they need to do while they are working,” Perez said. “We will tell them if they need to go home, or determine whether the conditions will keep them here and we need to make other arrangements.”
Training continues on an ongoing basis, with an earthquake drill scheduled for sometime in April.
Perez said that previous drills have been successful, and the entire campus can be evacuated in less than five minutes.
Even so, during those instances personnel have known that the drill was scheduled.
“I’m really pleased with how this is developing,” Perez said of the emergency efforts.“Everyone is pulling together to make sure it is successful.”