Urban Politics #203: Preparing For a City-Wide Catastrophe


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Preparing For A City Wide Catastrophe

Seattle may be in a situation similar to New Orleans. They have a record of hurricanes; we have a record of earthquakes.

In the last 60 years there have been 3 major earthquakes. And geologists have found evidence of massive earthquakes off the Washington Coast along a fault line that runs through the middle of the city. Our All-Hazards Mitigation Plan recognizes that: “Casualties could exceed 1,000 people and economic damage could easily run into billions of dollars.”

We all recognize that Seattle needs to be prepared. Right now there are 20 different related plans dealing with how the city should handle an emergency.

The City Council itself adopted two plans a year and a half ago, The All-Hazards Mitigation Plan and the Disaster Readiness and Response Plan. They were adopted after the City did a mock disaster drill (called Top Off) in May 2003.

Although local reports on the Top Off exercise were favorable, recent news reveals that the after action report identified “several areas for improvement.” The Wall Street Journal characterized the gaps in the plan as “craters.” The after action report said “Throughout the first two days of the exercise, disagreement (and confusion) resulted between local, state and federal agencies over whether DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has implemented ‘Orange’ or ‘Red,’ and whether the level was applicable nationally or locally.”

Since the plans were adopted, the Council has not reviewed them. Given the increase my office and other offices have received about what the status is of the city’s emergency plans, I invited the City’s Emergency Operations Center Director to attend today to inform the Public Safety Committee and the public what the executive has been doing with these plans since they were adopted.

In particular I was hoping to hear if the City is looking at social vulnerability issues involving the delivery of services to poorer residents, or those that are infirmed and less mobile, as demonstrated so graphically on television to that population in New Orleans.

I was shocked to be notified that after an initial acceptance to appear, the Mayor’s staff directed the Director not to appear before our Committee and instead would allow the Director to do private briefings with the Council Members.

I personally called the Mayor this morning and asked that the Director appear before the Public Safety Committee. And if he refused I was left with no alternative but to inform the other Council Members at our meeting today, which I subsequently did.

Emergency planning must involve the community and you cannot do that by holding such meetings with Council Members behind closed doors.

Seattle residents have a right to know what our state of preparedness is and I am determined to give them that information, and make it public before the Council.

The entire Full Council Briefing meeting on Monday, September 19th will be devoted to this topic. The Mayor has a second chance to cooperate with the Council in informing the public on how we can work together to make Seattle safe.

If he again refuses, the Council must decide whether to compel such cooperation through a subpoena. This is a reluctant position to be in, but we must move forward in an open manner to keep the public informed of the City’s efforts.

Watch the Seattle City Council in action on Seattle Channel 21 and visit the Council Website at www.cityofseattle.net/council Also, you can watch Council meetings and Public Hearings live on the web at www.cityofseattle.net/council-live.htm

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