County planning for response to disasters

Should they face with unexpected disaster, Island County government’s more than 20 departments have no plan for a coordinated response.

But that will soon change.

Emergency Management Director Eric Brooks said he’s nearing completion of a resolution to adopt the county’s first continuity of operations plan, called COOP.

“It is our responsibility to keep county business open for the community regardless of what happens,” Brooks said.

Until he completed his draft, which he plans to take to the commissioners’ March 20 work session for approval, separate departments had their own plans but no overarching scheme existed to keep services going, he said.

The COOP identifies key staff members, essential functions that should be performed at different time periods, and the materials needed.

To start, commissioners must declare the disaster and open the emergency operation center. Within 24 hours, the department of emergency management should activate the emergency operations center and provide the public with information.

Within a week, personnel with the clerk of superior court’s office are expected to protect court files, exhibits and assist the public with protections orders, among other services, according to the plan.

Brooks said this type of plan is best practice but not mandated by the state.

“Our commissioners had the forethought to make this a priority,” he said.

Each department has a role based on the type of emergency experienced. Public works employees are tasked with debris removal, engineering services and road and bridge repair. The WSU extension director will provide public information on agricultural, water and foreign-animal related issues.

The district court personnel are to begin reconstructing record keeping and rescheduling court cases within a week, and planning staff should make declarations of unsafe buildings.

The plan applies to potential events, “small, large or somewhere in between,” Brooks said. It will also be an evolving document that he said he’ll continue to work on to fill any gaps that might exist.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said it’s helped identify strengths in organizational plans where investments need to be made.

“In government, when people are counting on you to be the calm and reassuring voice, you need to be prepared,” she said in an email. This was long overdue.”

• To see the proposed plan, visit www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/

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