Klickitat County recently adopted a multi-hazard mitigation plan, the first of its kind to be done for the district.
The Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires jurisdictions to develop and maintain such plans to remain eligible for certain funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. What it does for the county is multifold, said County Emergency Management Director Jeff King.
King said the 330-page document, prepared in coordination with county and city staff, com- munity partners, and contractor Northwest Management Inc. of Moscow, Idaho outlines potential disaster scenarios, including wild- fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mass casualty events, and refines different projects that would help to mitigate disaster, the effects of potential disaster, and recovery efforts. It also makes the county and local jurisdictions eligible for disaster funds through federal programs.
King said another essential piece of the plan is the addition of information to the base of knowledge available for future planning and risk prevention. It highlights what resources are available to each participating agency, what hazards they need to consider, and strategies to mitigate risks to life, property, and infrastructure. King said the plan points to specific actions that can be taken to reduce risk. Number one on the list: establish more stations for emergency medical services.
“The three current EMS stations are not sufficiently covering the county,” the planning group wrote in the multi-hazard mitigation plan. They then go on to recommend the establishment of two stations, one in Glenwood and another in Wishram areas, to provide more coverage to the county, a cost estimated at $1.25 to $1.5 million each. The planning group also recommended further upgrades to emergency facilities, including installing backup generators and remodeling structures to adhere to seismic standards in case of such activity.
King said mitigation activities can help protect human life in the event of an emergency.
“You can’t prevent everything, but there are things we can do to help … We can make money available to drive mitigation efforts,” King said.
The multi-hazard mitigation plan took about five years to complete, King said, spanning nearly the entirety of his tenure as emergency management director for Klickitat County. King conceived of the idea to get the project started after two separate wildfires in the area occurred in 2015. If a multi-hazard mitigation plan were in place at the onset of the fires back then, the county would have been eligible for more than $1 million in federal funds for mitigation activities, including fuel-reduction. Instead, those funds went back to the federal government, King said.
“That’s what got the whole thing started,” said King.
Klickitat County then contracted with Northwest Emergency Management Inc. and assembled a team of resource professionals, including city and county staff, district fire chiefs and a volunteer professional geologist to create the plan. The project was funded through a grant from FEMA, King said.
The planning process included gathering current information about the extent and frequency of hazards in Klickitat County, and then conducting field observations to fill in any gaps in knowledge “in order to better understand risks, juxtaposition of structures and infrastructure to risk areas, access, and potential mitigation projects.” Public input had been essential to the task. Public hearings have been held on the project since last year, the latest round of hearings occurring in July.
Before the plan is finalized, participating jurisdictions, including cities in Klickitat County and local health districts, must also sign off on the documents. At the time of writing, the City of Bingen had yet to adopt the plan.
During a wildfire season such as this, King made sure to encourage the public to have supplies ready to last two weeks in the event of an emergency. Especially in the rural communities, it might be more than 72 hours before any serious support arrives, said King.
“It’s been proven over and over again … we can’t get to everybody all at the same time,” King said.
King recommended residents sign up for the Klickitat County emergency notification system, called Code RED. Visit www. klickitatcounty.org/249/ Emergency Management and click “REGISTER FOR EMERGENCY NOTIFICATIONS HERE!” to subscribe.
King expressed gratitude to the many participants on the project. “It’s always amazed me how this small rural county has people with so many skills … Lots of good people with good abilities who are willing to make it happen."