September 28, 1998
Woodinville trains for disaster
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--It's not a matter of 'if,' but rather 'when' a disaster will strike, local authorities say, and they believe they are ready to deal with emergencies when they occur.
Last week, the City of Woodinville and local fire and water districts participated in Sound Shake '98, a simulated 7.0 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in the Puget Sound basin.
For the city it was a learning experience; for the fire district, a chance to fine tune their training.
"We don't want to wait until the main event. We'd rather have drills," said Fire Chief Steve Smith of the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District.
Asked how long before the real deal, Mayor Don Brocha had as good an answer as the rest of us: "It could be tomorrow; it could be in five minutes."
Overall, Sound Shake showed there was a need for better communications between agencies.
Ray Sturtz, Woodinville's planning director and disaster coordinator, was one of more than a dozen public officials who gathered at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District station 31 for Sound Shake.
For Sturtz, the drill pointed out that the city could be isolated from the outside world after such a quake.
The role-playing event featured the cutting of transportation links and a failure of telephone lines. Communication was done largely by radios.
Sturtz said radio links need to be created between the Woodinville EOC, King County EOC as well as response centers of other local cities. As it was, calls had to go through a Kirkland repeater station during the five-county-wide drill. "We had to stand in line to get our requests in," he said.
During the event debriefing, the fire and water districts realized they had different missions when it came to water reservoirs. On a smaller scale, forms must be reformatted, the EOC rearranged for better communications and city employees issued photo identifications to gain entry to the center.
So far the Woodinville EOC has been activated less than a handful of times: once during an earthquake near Duvall, and another time during a windstorm, according to Sturtz. He said officials were "on stand by" during the July, 1997 pipeline break along the Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Smith says officials try to activate the EOC during small events.
But Sturtz and Smith say that it isn't just government that needs to be prepared, but residents as well. Smith says we need to realize we could be on our own for up to 72 hours.
Sturtz recommends families maintain an out-of-state contact person who could act as a message station, taking and passing along information to other family members. He said long-distance phone lines are usually the first to be up after a disaster.
Residents interested in preparedness can contact the fire district at 483-2131 for Citizen Emergency Response Teams.
The feeling of readiness extends beyond high officials. For Sandra Steffler, Woodinville's city clerk, knowing that help would be on its way strengthens her resolve to do her part in case of emergency. Living in town, she would be one of the first to respond if an event occurred after business hours.
"I think we're ready. I hope we're ready," Steffler said. "I know we're ready."
It's not a matter of 'if,' but rather 'when' a disaster will strike, local authorities say, and they believe they are ready to deal with emergencies when they occur.