The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Sheriff’s office details emergency plans


April 13, 2011

Editor's note: Undersheriff Mark Howie asked to respond in depth to recent articles and concerns about the department's emergency planning policies and response to recent tsunami situations. We welcome that information.

Recent earthquakes and the subsequent tsunami in Japan have re-ignited interest in the state of emergency planning and response in Wahkiakum County. This announcement is to explain the role of the sheriff's office during local disasters or in the event of a large scale emergency.

In a local large scale emergency or disaster the Sheriff's office would achieve the following:

1. Call in as many sheriff's office personnel as needed.

2. Notify Emergency Manager if we had one (at this time we have a volunteer helping out with emergency plans and emergency operations center set up. The Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners eliminated the funds for this position in 2007 due to budget shortfalls).

3. Notify department heads, fire chiefs, and elected officials such as the county commissioners, town mayor, council members, and other county personnel as needed.

4. Activate Emergency Operations Center (EOC), along with Incident Command System which coordinates efforts in addressing the emergency.

5. Activate the Emergency Notification System to alert citizens of the current situation and any actions pending.

6. Coordinate Search and Rescue volunteers as needed.

This coordinated effort includes myriad personnel and numerous volunteers. The basic structure is outlined in the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP). This plan is a general guideline that requires a multi-faceted approach for responding to wide-scale emergencies. Personnel from police, fire, Health Department, Public Works, Building Department, Search and Rescue, state and federal agencies if necessary, and many more come together in a time of crisis and respond according to the circumstances involved in that particular emergency or disaster.

Emergency situations are fluid and sometimes rapidly evolving and those factors determine what actions we take in each scenario. It is impossible to have a plan for every situation so the CEMP cannot account for the millions of scenarios that might occur. In both the EOC as well as the sheriff's office, we prioritize the worst affected areas or areas that require the most attention for life-saving measures and respond dynamically.

The CEMP gives us a “toolbox” of responses. For the sheriff's office, among the specific actions that our deputies can take include door-to-door notifications, mobile public address through patrol vehicles, and providing traffic control in areas that are being evacuated. In the case of evacuating Puget Island, if the bridge were safe, deputies would control traffic over the bridge and limit vehicle direction to northbound only while simultaneously moving the flow of traffic through the stop sign at the Main Street intersection. If the bridge was incapacitated, our options are limited to utilizing the ferry, boats, and any other marine vessels that could be accommodated along the island’s landings. The scenarios are endless and each incident dictates a unique and flexible response.

One improvement that would enhance our emergency response would be for the county to fund an Emergency Manager position. At the moment, the county has no funds dedicated to a Department of Emergency Management. This does not best serve the residents and businesses of our county. Emergency Managers continually update the CEMP, attend trainings geared toward emergency management, and maintain current county plans for effective emergency management coordination.

In addition to county-wide response, there are many steps residents can take to prepare for a disaster. In a major disaster, emergency services would be overwhelmed.

The universal rule in emergency planning is that it may be up to 72 hours before help can arrive. This is where it is crucial for neighbors to assist neighbors in need. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program offers training in preparedness and team response. You learn basic skills most commonly used in disasters. These skills can be used in your neighborhood or in your workplace. Classes are offered periodically. Contact Beau Renfro for more information at 360-751-8999.

Mapping Your Neighborhood is a program that is simple and teaches neighbors how to make a plan to work together in emergencies. This information is available through the sheriff's office, and trainings can be set up in your neighborhood. Contact Joannie Bjorge at the Sheriff's office to obtain a DVD and set up training in your neighborhood.

All of the sheriff's officers are sworn to protect and serve the public. Each of us took an oath to uphold the law and the constitutions of the United States and State of Washington. We each signed an understanding of our core values which drives everything we do in our duties. Those core values are integrity, respect, and service.

If and when the time arises, the sheriff's office and its volunteers will jump into action and meet those challenges head on. We have a professional and knowledgeable group of public servants that I would trust with my life. I know in an extreme hardship or disaster, the public can trust them with theirs.


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