State removes hurdle for cities in need of disaster assistance

May 24, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Floodwaters inundated Snoqualmie in January 2009 and, even as nearby Issaquah dried out from a major flood, officials sent equipment to the other flood-plagued city.

Issaquah and other local governments previously needed to negotiate a patchwork of interlocal agreements among local governments, law enforcement agencies and emergency service providers in order to receive aid from other jurisdictions during a disaster.

Under legislation signed last month, asking for help from other agencies in Washington is simpler for Issaquah and other local governments.

Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said the measure allows local governments to request aid from other jurisdictions in Washington, even if the parties do not have interlocal agreements in place.

“Prior to this, it was easier to bring resources in from out of state than it was from other counties,” he said.

The measure could serve a crucial need during a regional disaster, such as a major earthquake.

“Typically, during those types of emergencies, all of the jurisdictions in King County are in the same boat, if you will,” Heath said. “We’re not in a position where we can share resources with each other, because we’re all maxed out. So, we need to bring resources in from outside.”

Moreover, the legislation does not supersede existing interlocal aid agreements, such as the King County Regional Disaster Plan, a mutual aid agreement among cities in the county.

“It’s a permissive law. It allows us to share resources, but it doesn’t require us to share resources,” Heath said. “So, if Issaquah needs resources, we can put in a request. Other jurisdictions can respond to that request. We work out with the jurisdiction of choice which resources they will share with us.”

State Rep. Deb Eddy, a former Kirkland mayor and a 48th Legislative District Democrat, sponsored the intrastate mutual aid bill. The legislative district includes the Greenwood Point and South Cove neighborhoods in Issaquah.

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger offered input to Eddy about the legislation and possible benefits of a streamlined mutual aid system.

“Something could happen in Spokane that would have no effect on the western side of the state or vice versa, and then we would be able to share, and hitherto, that just wasn’t possible,” Frisinger said.

The measure passed both chambers of the Legislature in unanimous decisions. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation April 15. Washington is the 35th state to enact such a measure.

“What this law does, it allows that type of resource sharing statewide,” Heath said. “We can get resources now from Snohomish County or across the mountains.”

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