September 13, 2011
The decade since 9/11 has reshaped how Issaquah and King County leaders prepare for disasters and manage the response to emergencies.
The attacks also meant increased attention — and dollars — for emergency management efforts, although local officials said the initial focus on counterterrorism sidelined plans about other dangers, such as floods and earthquakes.
“All of the sudden there was a big focus on emergency management in general. That was good news from an emergency management perspective,” said Bret Heath, city public works operations and emergency management director. “The bad news is that it shifted from all hazards to almost strictly terrorism immediately following 9/11.”
Issaquah planners focused on more common emergencies — floods, snowstorms, windstorms and the like — in the years before the attacks.
May 24, 2011
Issaquah faces risk from volcanic ash amid Cascade eruption
Majestic Mount Rainier, peeping through the gap between Tiger and Squak mountains, stands as a constant reminder to prepare for emergencies.
The looming volcano, like Mount Baker to the north and Mount St. Helens to the south, is active and although geologists do not expect Mount Rainier to erupt anytime soon, emergency planners remind residents to prepare. May is Volcano Awareness Month.
“It’s one of the things where we actually have to remind people that a volcano is one of our hazards,” said Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director. “Everybody looks at Mount Rainier down in the valley there on a nice day and goes, ‘Ah, beautiful mountain’ — until it goes off.”
Issaquah sits outside the area under threat from Mount Rainier lahars, a debris-strewn mudflow streaming from a volcano, but volcanic ash, or tephra, could impact transportation and air quality in East King County. In the area surrounding the mountain, lahars pose a greater hazard than lava and poisonous gases.
Though lava flows might not extend more than a few miles beyond Mount Rainier National Park boundaries, lahars could reach as far north as South King County.
Heath and other emergency planners identify volcanic eruptions as a potential threat to Issaquah.
Carolyn Driedger, hydrologist and outreach coordinator at the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash., said numerous volcanoes in the Cascade Range remain active.
May 24, 2011
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.”
April 5, 2011
In Issaquah, a city of more than 30,000 people, only a handful of the population has completed the most rigorous training to respond to disasters.
The unfolding disaster in Japan — caused after a magnitude-9 earthquake rocked the island nation early last month — renewed attention on emergency preparedness on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Even in a city as focused on preparedness as Issaquah, some gaps remain in the system.
The city has spearheaded lessons in Map Your Neighborhood — a program to coordinate disaster recovery on a block-by-block basis and identify special skills, such as medical training, among residents — for dozens of neighborhoods, although less then 300 people had completed the more rigorous program, Community Emergency Response Team training, by mid-March.
City and independent emergency planners said the numbers belie the effect of trained responders, especially as CERT members start to educate family members and neighbors in disaster preparedness and response.
March 1, 2011
Snowflakes, egged on by a relentless drumbeat from TV meteorologists, started to fall in Issaquah just as the afternoon commute started in earnest Feb. 22.
Unlike the pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm responsible for gridlock on roads and mass transit in Issaquah and throughout the region, planners said the late February snowfall did not cause quite so many headaches.
February 22, 2011
Issaquah is more prepared now than during 2001 roller
The ground started to shake as Bret Heath stood upstairs at the old municipal public works office — the steel-frame and metal-clad structure used nowadays as the parks department maintenance facility — and in seconds, the building rolled, like a ship tossed on ocean swells.
“I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if this building is going to hold together,’” the longtime Public Works Operations and emergency management director said.
January 25, 2011
Forecasters aim to reduce confusion about flood data
Information from the city and the National Weather Service offered a study in contrasts as rain-gorged Issaquah Creek spilled onto city streets in early December.
Issaquah Creek data from a gauge upstream in Hobart indicated a creek running high, but not enough to cause more than localized flooding. Information from a downstream gauge and a notice from National Weather Service meteorologists, on the other hand, cautioned residents to prepare for widespread flooding in the city.
The arrangement caused some confusion among floodplain residents.
December 14, 2010
City emergency responders turn attention to mudslides in aftermath
Rainfall gorged Issaquah Creek and menaced homes, businesses and roads Dec. 12, as a late-fall storm reminded emergency officials and residents to plan for a rain-soaked winter.
The deluge turned the creek into a roiling broth the color of chocolate milk and led to flooding on roads and in Issaquah neighborhoods. Read more
December 7, 2010
City road crews used more than 600 tons of sand to keep Issaquah streets passable during the recent fall snowstorm.
The sand has replaced snow along road medians and shoulders a week after snow blanketed the Puget Sound region.
Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said crews plan to sweep and collect the sand throughout December. The department then screens debris from the grit and plans to use the sand again if road conditions deteriorate.
“We recycle as much of it as we can,” Heath said. “We’ll pick it up, store it, screen it and reuse it, either for sandbags or for sanding again.”
The city Public Works Operations Department deployed sanders and snowplows as snowflakes started to fall Nov. 22.
Crews applied sand sprayed with a de-icing fluid — calcium chloride with a modifier added to reduce corrosion — to Issaquah roadways.
November 30, 2010
The nightmare occurred long before Christmas — and before Thanksgiving.
Issaquah and the Puget Sound region slid to a halt during a fall snowstorm Nov. 22. The storm snarled commutes for Issaquah residents and prompted road crews to toil through Thanksgiving to clear streets. The poor conditions interrupted the regional transit system and left riders huddled in bus shelters. The fallout sent shoppers scrambling to stores for emergency supplies and Thanksgiving staples.
The mercury dipped into the teens and 20s — record cold temperatures — in the days after the storm and turned roads icy.
“People were very understanding of the situation,” Issaquah Police Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said. “I think a lot of people were just trying to get home Monday night.”
Some motorists abandoned vehicles and turned road shoulders along Highlands Drive Northeast, Newport Way Northwest and Southeast Black Nugget Road into impromptu parking lots. Police impounded more than 30 vehicles in travel lanes as conditions deteriorated Nov. 22.