City Government Services
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 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.
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.
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.
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. (pdf .5 MB) The assistance follows two tracks: one for private
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.