Are you ready for the Big One?

Deborah Needham, the City of Renton’s emergency management director, checks into the city’s new RedAlert disaster notification system. - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Deborah Needham, the City of Renton’s emergency management director, checks into the city’s new RedAlert disaster notification system.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

On the heels of the Napa earthquake, September is “National Preparedness Month” and “Ready in Renton” in the city, highlighting the City of Renton’s emergency preparedness campaign.

The city has made a number of upgrades to its Emergency Operations Center, or E.O.C., in the Highlands. Most recently the E.O.C. was used for the July 19 fire at the Regency Woods apartment complex in Renton.

“If you were to go back (through) the years, every year we had any kind of serious storm – whether it’s a snowstorm issue, flooding or potential – there are criteria that are followed to activate the E.O.C.,” said Preeti Shridhar, city spokesperson.

The E.O.C. is organized into sections and can accommodate more than 40 emergency staff. There is a room dedicated to  amateur radio operators, which the city calls its most resilient form of communication in a disaster. Staffed by the Renton Emergency Communication Service, a non-profit, operators can work on location at the E.O.C. or be mobile in the field.

In the past, during serious snowstorms the radio operators were able to go to their nearest Renton school and post notifications at that Neighborhood Information Center’s bulletin board.

In the main E.O.C. room there are pods of tables with different functions and also a break out room, where giant maps can be printed of the effected area. There is a section for logistics and finance, operations, planning and a public information or media table. Electronic smartboards help track rumors and giant projection screens on either end of the room help keep staff informed on the latest information about the disaster area.

Most of the equipment and supplies were purchased with grants.

“This is really oriented for the big one (earthquake) and we’ve used grant funds to outfit it,” said Deborah Needham, emergency management director. “So we’re not taking city funds for a facility that’s not used that often.”

“Number one, we have emergency plans for every possible contingency because they’re written broadly enough that we can apply them to any situation,” she said.

The city’s comprehensive emergency plan is actually a requirement for grant funding under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Without adhering to it closely, the city runs the risk of not being reimbursed for expenses paid for during disaster management.

All city staff have been recruited into disaster roles should one happen.

“Say we just had the Napa earthquake today, we would look at every non-mission critical function in the city and say that one we could stop doing that for a few days,” said Needham.

For example, Community Services instructors who usually teach community classes could be called on to coordinate housing in a disaster.

The city has also done outreach with businesses that get funding from the City of Renton to help develop their disaster preparedness plans as part of the city’s continuity of operations.

“We’ve done a lot, again, every department in the city to look at what are our continuity of operations and what are the plans we need to do,” said Shridhar.

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