Stockpiling sandbags, public notification, interagency coordination and speedup of cleanup among the four proposals
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn today introduced a package of four reforms to address flood response and recovery issues identified in last month’s devastating flooding.
Stockpiling of sandbags: One reform directs the King County Water and Land Resources Division to identify strategic locations accessible to residents of flood prone areas for stockpiling materials and equipment for sandbags. The reform would mandate King County to make the sandbag materials available and notify the public of where they are located. The measure is co-sponsored by Councilmember Kathy Lambert.
“The recent flood event exposed inadequacies in our current response plan,” said Dunn. “Supplying sandbag materials to flood-prone areas is a common-sense flood prevention measure that we did not execute, which made the situation more dangerous and caused avoidable property damage. We can learn from our mistakes and provide residents with the resources they need to protect their families and homes.”
Interagency coordination: While the amount of winter runoff and volume of rain occurring in January were unavoidable factors causing high water danger, it is apparent that better communication and coordination between King County agencies and other entities with river management responsibilities could have had a positive impact on the severity of flooding. Councilmember Dunn has filed a motion, co-sponsored by Councilmember Lambert, seeking a review and report on current coordination and communications efforts between county, state or federal agencies whose actions may impact flood protection efforts. The report would include recommendations on steps that can be taken to improve how the stakeholder agencies work together during flood events.
“The key to serving the public’s needs during a flood crisis begins with communication and coordination between the agencies responsible for managing the rivers,” said Dunn. “How can we come up with the best solutions and response if we are in the dark on the timing and execution of each other’s actions? We can’t. We need to take immediate action to prevent potentially harmful results from water releases and share advanced notice of similar activities.”
Public notification: After many conversations with flood-impacted residents including public testimony from over 90 residents at a January 27 meeting of the Cedar River Council, of which Councilmember Dunn is co-chair, and tours of flood damaged properties, Dunn is also focused on King County’s resident notification process. Many residents expressed concern and frustration over the lack of timeliness and overall communication of flood information on the part of King County. Dunn has filed a motion calling for a review of the current county notification process and proposals for improvements to be submitted to the council by May.
“Public safety must be our number one concern during flood catastrophe or any natural disaster,” said Dunn. “We leave citizens needlessly in harm’s way if we do not do all that we can to provide widespread, advanced notice of imminent danger. Communicating this vital information with as much advance notice as possible will allow people to make the best decisions about their safety and take measures to prevent damage.”
Speeding the cleanup: Flood victims need support – not roadblocks in their efforts to recover in the aftermath of a flood. Councilmember Dunn has filed a motion directing the executive to review King County, state and federal regulations that delay or discourage the removal of flood debris and to recommend steps to remove barriers and streamline the process. In reaction to the January flood, the Council took action to waive disposal fees for flood debris. Dunn is confident a review of other current polices may produce more meaningful solutions to support flood victims’ cleanup efforts.
“It is imperative that agencies like the Army Corps and the Department of Fish and Wildlife work hand in hand with county officials and impacted residents to improve short and long-term relief during natural disasters,” said Dunn. “In times of disaster emergency rules need to be adaptive and not proscriptive in nature to provide assistance to the affected citizens.”
January of 2009 will go down on record as the worst flooding King County has seen since 1990 and the highest ever water flows on the Snoqualmie, Tolt and Cedar Rivers. The numbers are staggering. Peak water flows on the Cedar River at the height of the flood were 11,600 cfs (cubic feet per second). To put that in perspective, 2000 cfs is approximately one semi-truck of water per second flowing down the river. The average cfs is on the Cedar is 662 cfs. In anyone’s book that is impressive and frightening - especially if you live on or near the river.
The Council in 2007 created the King County Flood Control District to deal with a nearly $350 million backlog of levee and flood control improvements. Dunn chaired the Flood District’s Executive Board during its first year. The District has now finished 25 projects and, in partnership with the King County Water and Land Resources Division and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the cost was less than anticipated. Those projects performed well during the recent storms and floods. However, there is nothing like a record storm event to spotlight the strengths and weaknesses of flood protection facilities and emergency response programs. While King County did a number of things right during this disaster, Dunn’s legislation aims to close gaps in the County’s ability to serve its citizens during times of extreme flooding.
On Wednesday, February 11, the King County Council will go to Carnation, one of the communities impacted by the winter storms for its first Town Hall meeting of 2009 and discuss the County’s response to the winter weather emergencies.