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Disaster ready...prepared people, resilient community
Barb Graff, Director

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City Government Role

Our role in dealing with disasters includes limiting harm to the public. For those who live, work and visit here, the City government provides most basic services. When you suffer a crime, it is the Seattle Police Department that responds and if you are hurt, it is the Seattle Fire Department that treats you first. Most people think about these services first when they think about public safety, but the City of Seattle supplies many other critical services: we ensure buildings are safe to occupy, the streets are safe to drive on, the water is safe to drink, that everyone has basic utilities and that the most vulnerable among us have food and shelter.

Disasters interfere with our ability to provide these basic services in the same manner we do on a daily basis. Difficult traffic conditions (ice or earthquake damage) affect the response times of our fire engines and patrol cars, for instance. The number of people calling 9-1-1 typically overloads our ability to answer the calls within seconds. It would cost more than we could afford to build services that could withstand a major Seattle Fault earthquake so we have to choose how we can minimize the likely harm to the public with our limited resources. These activities fall into two basic categories before a disaster, mitigation and preparedness.

Mitigation

Mitigation means those things done before a disaster that minimize harm when one occurs. Strapping your water heater to withstand earthquake shaking is a good example of mitigation at the personal level. At the municipal level, strengthening bridges or stabilizing slopes (pdf) are typical examples. In 2004 the City developed an All Hazards Mitigation Plan (pdf 10 MB) to coordinate mitigation priorities across all City departments and articulate an overall strategy.

Preparedness

To compliment our mitigation activities, preparedness involves doing things to better equip you for the inevitable disaster in order to make your response more effective. Planning, training and exercises are three of the major preparedness activities undertaken by the City of Seattle. The City's Disaster Readiness and Response Plan (pdf 30 MB) is one of the core planning documents that explains how the City plans to respond to disasters. City staff use this plan as the basis for training on their roles during disasters. Finally, exercises provide a chance to validate the plan and training. The Office of Emergency Management maintains a list of past exercises that demonstrate the City's commitment to testing and improving its preparedness program.

Response

When a disaster occurs or is imminent, the City responds by implementing the Seattle Disaster Readniness and Response Plan (pdf 30 MB). The plan's Concept of Operations lays out the basic framework. It states, "the primary responsibility for maintaining 'the peace and order' in the City of Seattle is vested in the Mayor." Disaster response starts in the field with crew workers, police officers, firefighters, health workers, etc. Departments use the powers given to them legally and those delegated to them by the Mayor to respond. They assess the situation and determine if additional resources may be necessary. These additional resources can be requested and managed through the City's Emergency Operations Center. Depending on the scope or complexity of the emergency, the Mayor can proclaim a "Civil Emergency, " execute temporary emergency measures to speed disaster relief, and request State assistance. The City Council must ratify the proclamation. The overarching goal is to minimize harm by acting quickly to bring the necessary resources to bear. There are four basic steps: 1) assess the situation; 2) determine what needs to be done; 3) secure the necessary resources to achieve the goals and 4) apply the resources to the problem. These steps become a continuous cycle until the emergency conditions abate. The City of Seattle subscribes to the tenets of the new National Incident Management System to ensure we have an interchangeable, scalable response.

Recovery

Once rescues are performed, fires are extinguished, emergency measures are instituted, etc. , recovery begins. In many ways it is the most painful and difficult part of a disaster. It can take years. Often a city will never be the same again. The most important thing the City can do is start the healing process. After the Nisqually Earthquake, the City sponsored community seminars for people to work through their experiences. Much of the hard work of recovery involves repairing damage. The first thing the City does is start collecting damage information. It uses this information to request State and Federal disaster declarations. Depending on the nature and scope of damage different assistance is available. In a big disaster, much of the cost of extraordinary emergency measures, protective actions, and repair of public infrastructure becomes eligible for federal assistance according to the Robert T. Stafford Act The assistance follows two tracks: one for private damage (FEMA and SBA programs) and one for public. The City's role in private damage disaster assistance is limited. It can advocate for limited grants and low-interest loans, but the funding relationships are direct between the Federal government and those impacted by the disaster.

Information About City Services

Emergency Building Permits from the Department of Planning and Development

Winter Storm Information from the Seattle Department of Transportation.


NEW!

Personal and Family Preparedness Web-based Training

This web-training will give the viewer information about how to be safe in an earthquake, what goes in a disaster supply kit, how to create a family disaster plan, and more. Click on the link and follow the instructions to take the program.

Why Prepare?

Accomplishments

Just for Kids

Just for Parents

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