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Ref: Recent response to storms prompt change in Seattle's emergency management services

Seattle Post Intelligencer

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

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Changes needed to emergency system, mayor says


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

By ANGELA GALLOWAY
P-I REPORTER

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels called for numerous changes to city emergency response services this morning in the wake of a recently completed report examining Seattle's response to the Dec. 14 wind and rain storms.

The city estimates the storm will cost taxpayers about $15.5 million in overtime and damage to public structures, such as power poles.

"I am very proud of the response of our city employees. Many people worked around the clock under extreme circumstances," Nickels said. "But events like this give us a wake-up call and an opportunity to improve our response to emergencies and disasters."

Nickels said he wants city departments to:

Implement a 311 phone number of all non-emergency calls during such events;
Develop an outage management system to track power failures and predict how long to expect to be without electricity;
Install emergency generators in every city fire station; and
Hold annual emergency response training exercises.
Nickels said he expects the new phone line would be "fairly expensive" but the city has not yet calculated an estimate.

Barb Graff, Seattle's emergency response director, said too many people called 911 for inappropriate and sometimes "embarrassing" questions, such as when they can expect their cable service to be restored.

"Many of the lessons about coping with power outages and the need to coordinate and more broadly disseminate information are certainly quite applicable," the report said.

"But we must also apply lessons from the transportation system-crippling snow and ice of the following weeks, as well as communication system vulnerabilities and other broader structural damage impacts to fully appreciate how much more work must be done to strengthen our communities resilience in the face of disaster."

Since the storm, more than 200 Seattle residents and businesses have filed damage claims with the city. Most blame Seattle Public Utilities, the city's public water company, for flooding and other damage. Many of the claims come from Madison Valley. A number of claims also come from one small area in West Seattle near the Fauntleroy ferry terminal.

Although most claims don't yet estimate a value of losses, those that do range from $45 to nearly $400,000. And those alone sum about $1.7 million.

Meanwhile, Seattle Public Utilities recently signed a $216,000 contract with Denver-based CH2M Hill to investigate the death of Kate Fleming, who drowned in her basement after a torrent of storm water tore through the foundation of her Madison Valley home. Some neighbors believe the community's long-troubled storm system was at fault.

And the City Council established a special committee to examine the city's emergency response to the storm. The committee plans to hold its first meeting Friday at 9:30 a.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 600 Fourth Ave.

Angela Galloway can be reached at 206-448-8333 or angelagalloway@seattlepi.com.

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