Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DelBene getting ready for disaster

With its network of rivers, forests, mountains and even an active volcano, Snohomish County boasts an extensive set of environmental hazards — which is why Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is tackling emergency preparedness and disaster planning through a series of forums throughout the region.
The Sky Valley “Community Preparedness & Resiliency: Planning Today for a Safer Tomorrow” event took place at Sultan City Hall on Monday, April 25. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Northwest Regional Director Rich Ferrero was in attendance, along with USGS regional coordinators specializing in earthquake hazards, landslides and streamgaging. The meeting was attended by the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management (DEM), along with first responders and community leaders from Monroe to Skykomish.
The goal of the event was to facilitate discussion and provide opportunities for collaboration. The Sky Valley event was DelBene’s third forum in the series, which will continue to take place throughout Washington’s First Congressional District.
“We know that we live in an incredibly beautiful area,” DelBene said. “But living in a beautiful area also comes with some unique risks.”
Opening the lines of communication preemptively is crucial, the congresswoman said.
“It’s very hard to do it when we’re in the middle of a crisis,” DelBene said. “Unfortunately, we found just north of here in Snohomish County how challenging it can be when an unexpected disaster happens.”
The USGS is a federal organization that studies real-time data for the purposes of providing scientific information about natural hazards. Many in the Sky Valley are familiar with the USGS, because they operate the Skykomish River monitoring station in Gold Bar. As the rivers rise, residents closely monitor the USGS website in anticipation of flooding.
Working to understand how much water is flowing through the rivers is just one of the USGS areas of focus, Ferraro said. In addition to natural hazards like earthquakes and landslides, they study climate change, energy and minerals.
Based out of the University of Washington, the regional USGS Earthquake Hazards Program conducts research and seismic monitoring of earthquakes all over the Pacific Northwest. Currently, they are working to fully implement an early earthquake warning system called ShakeAlert, which has been operating in a test mode in California.
They are implementing hardware upgrades that will expand the system to include Washington and Oregon, said regional coordinator Brian Sherrod.
ShakeAlert utilizes a dense network of seismometers all along the West Coast, from the shoreline to just east of the mountains. The technology detects the initial waves of energy (P-waves) generated by an earthquake. Once a fault ruptures and the waves start to travel, the sensors are able to transmit the signal to the next set of sensors and then the next, until it reaches USGS scientists.
“It can relay the information that there’s an earthquake coming to the next set of sensors at the speed of light,” Sherrod said. “We’re just leveraging physics here. By the time the wave continues on, it’s reached the network center and a warning’s actually issued.”
Notification of the impending earthquake can be transmitted before the S-wave hits, which is what brings the strong shaking typically felt during earthquakes. The technology would provide between five and 10 minutes of advanced notice during a large-scale subduction zone earthquake, and maybe 10 or 15 seconds during localized earthquakes.
That may not seem like much, Sherrod said, but it would give people time to duck and cover and take other precautionary measures.
 Photo by Chris Hendrickson USGS Earthquake Hazards Program regional coordinator Brian Sherrod and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene talk about disaster planning at Sultan City Hall.
Photo by Chris Hendrickson
USGS Earthquake Hazards Program regional coordinator Brian Sherrod and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene talk about disaster planning at Sultan City Hall.

Landslide Hazard Program coordinator Jonathan Godt presented an overview on the types of landslides that occur in Western Washington. The USGS was involved in the Oso landslide and is conducting extensive research in an effort to understand the unique geologic factors that may have contributed to the tragedy. By using computer simulations, scientists have been able to determine that the Oso slide moved at speeds of at least 40 miles per hour.
According to the USGS, understanding what caused the slide in Oso is key to its efforts to recognize other potential areas of hazard.
Godt is aware of the active landslide near Index, but has not conducted a site visit.
One tool that has become available to aid landslide science is Light Distance and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, where data is collected from the air above a specific area using lasers.
“It’s basically bouncing a laser through the vegetation, so we can see the bare earth surface,” Godt said.
DelBene has been pushing for federal funding to help with LiDAR mapping potential landslide areas.
The efforts for increased use of LiDAR technology have occurred locally as well. Last year, Washington Sen. Kirk Pearson sponsored Senate Bill 5088, which established the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as the official depository for a library of LiDAR mapping. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on April 17, 2015.
Godt said the challenge with LiDAR is that while it’s effective at identifying things that have happened in the past, it cannot predict future landslide behavior.
“Projecting in the future is challenging, and we need to know more about landslide processes,” Godt said. 
Rivers and flooding
USGS Washington Water Science Center’s Dr. Kristin Jaeger talked about local streamgaging. The USGS monitors river flow using a network of about 380 streamgages throughout Washington and parts of Oregon and Idaho. Fifty-eight of the streamgages are located in the First Congressional District.
Streamgage stations facilitate continuous data collection, measuring river discharge in cubic feet per second (CFS) at 15-minute intervals. Other water quality data is collected, along with temperature, turbidity, total dissolved gas and stage, which is the water surface elevation. Data captured by streamgages is supplemented by periodic physical measurements taken by USGS scientists out in the field.
By pairing the discharge measurement with the stage measurement, scientists can begin to establish a relationship between discharge and stage.
“We need to know how much water is moving through the river at any given point,” Jaeger said. “This then can be used for flood forecasting.”
The USGS has 86 years of records collected at the streamgage in Gold Bar, which was installed around 1929. Additionally, there are three streamgages on the Sultan River, one at the Culmback Dam, one at the Jackson powerhouse and one on the south fork.
A former gauge on the Wallace River is no longer operational.      
Jaeger gave an overview of some of the Sky Valley’s most historic flooding events. The highest on record occurred on Nov. 6, 2006, and produced a discharge of 129,000 CFS. The second highest was in November 1990 at 102,000 CFS and the third highest occurred just this past November at 95,900 CFS.
Snohomish Co. DEM
The DEM was formed as a county department in 2006, and is one of three emergency management organizations in Snohomish County. The DEM is a collaborative agency authorized for 15 staff and currently headed up by interim director Jason Biermann.
For a relatively new department, they’ve been busy, Biermann said.
“We have had 10 presidential disaster declarations in the last 10 years,” Biermann said. “So, we’ve got quite a bit going on.”
For the past two years, the DEM has been working with FEMA to plan a large-scale field response operation called the Cascadia Subduction Zone Exercise — also known as Cascadia Rising — which takes place June 7-10. Several states are coming together to participate, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and even British Columbia on a limited level.
It will involve 19 Washington counties.
“We’ll be participating in that along with a number of other communities in the county, and there are some other large exercises that we’ll do in conjunction with our military partners for that as well,” Biermann said.
Disaster preparedness guidelines have changed over the years.
“They used to tell you to have supplies for three days,” Ferraro said. “Now it’s seven to 10 days. That’s a good rule of thumb to follow is to have enough stuff to support yourself for 10 days.”
Both Sultan Police Chief Monte Beaton and Sultan Fire Chief Merlin Halverson agreed it’s important to build resiliency from within the community. Beaton said enabling residents through outreach efforts like Citizens Academies and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training is critical.
“With the leadership here in Sultan, we can put together more of these disaster preparedness classes to get folks more able to take care of themselves,” Beaton said.   
For more information about the Cascadia Subduction Zone Exercise, visit www.fema.gov/cascadia-rising-2016.

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