Northwest NEWS

June 25, 2001

Local News

When disaster strikes

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   Phones at City Hall began ringing off the hook in unison. Concerned citizens were calling and asking questions. "Hey, there's been a slide up here on 124th," one citizen told the staff person answering the phone at the front desk. At the same time, Public Works was hearing from another citizen on their phone line, "I smell gasoline in the area. Could someone check this out?" Puzzled at first, the staff at City Hall finally put two and two together. There had to be a break in a fuel pipeline.
   The above scenario is true except there wasn't a "real" emergency and a pipeline never broke. Still, Communications Coordinator Marie Stake said that the emergency was as real as it gets. City employees were involved as if it really happened.
   Firefighters, police and media were at the scene.
   In a joint effort with other cities and Woodinville Fire and Life Safety, the City of Woodinville participated in a citywide mock up of the disaster on Wednesday, June 13. The main Emergency Operation Center (EOC) is located at the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety headquarters and the alternate command center of emergency operation is at City Hall.
   Community Development Director and Emergency Management Director Ray Sturtz stated the purpose of the simulated emergency: "It was an opportunity to test the new (Emergency Operation) facilities and work cooperatively on an emergency exercise. So we could be ready if it were to ever happen for real."
   The City of Bothell, along with their police and fire department, also took part in the exercise at their EOC.
   The anxious callers reporting the incident were city staff posing as citizens. Administrative Assistant Janet Groak assumed various roles of fictitious callers, acting as a manager of the Smith Bros. Cough Drop warehouse, a police officer, and a whole list of others.
   "Each call in had a problem to deal with," said Sturtz, and added that Groak's acting ability was Academy Award material. Her co-workers didn't even recognize her voice. The exercise also simulated road closures and evacuation procedures in coordination with the county, state and the Northshore School District. Some city employees mimicked the actions they would take when notifying radio and TV. "They really got into their roles and played it out," said Sturtz. He said he purposefully threw a lot of problems at the city staff since many problems would face them all at once in the real situation. "It actually caused stress and tension," said Sturtz of his staff trying to figure out ways to deal with a flood of perplexing questions that needed quick resolution.
   Regarding the possibility of fuel running down the pipeline, Sturtz said, "This could happen!" If such an event ever occurred, people couldn't drive their cars due to the risk of ignition, he explained. This problem would be solved, though, through the cooperation of the Northshore School District and the use of their school buses. Also, a Red Cross representative attended the drill, explaining what the organization would do and offering assistance.
   "It's taken us about five months to put this together," said Sturtz and stated that the city participates in some type of emergency exercise at least twice a year.
   The city wants to be prepared to handle all types of disasters, including earthquakes, tank trucks spilling over, a plane crash, windstorms, snowstorms, a school shooting or any situation that puts citizens at risk.
   Sturtz mentioned that the City of Woodinville plans to take part in the countywide "Sound Shake" in September. The upcoming exercise will be an earthquake recovery drill preparing cities for dealing with the three days that follow the "Big One." Said Sturtz, "In an emergency, we are likely to be on our own for three days until the state and federal agencies can help."
   He advises citizens to be prepared for any type of disaster and encourages them to have a three-day kit on hand. Items needed in the kit include water, blankets, emergency food rations, first aid, medicine, candles, matches and batteries. A flashlight, walking shoes, food for pets and a whistle are also recommended. Sturtz said, "I encourage people to prepare one."
   He also advises citizens to have an out-of-state relative to contact in an emergency. "Long distance lines will come up quicker than local (in an emergency). Have a central point to contact." He said if everyone called one contact person out of state, it would reduce in-state calls and free up lines.
   And how did the drill turn out at the day's end? Said Sturtz, "The end result was ... we successfully accomplished the objectives of the exercise."