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Focus on recovery needs at winter tabletop exercise

Quinn Butler, leading the state's recovery efforts, talks with EMD Director Robert Ezelle.

Dozens of state agencies gathered last week on Camp Murray to discuss not just how they would respond to potential winter weather emergencies, but how they’d lead recovery efforts after the fact.

It was a different kind of tabletop exercise, one spurred by recovery efforts ongoing in California after the wildfires and hurricane-damaged areas of Texas, Puerto Rico and the East Coast, said Ed Taylor, Accreditation Program Manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

“Recovery is an entirely different animal compared to response,” said Major General Bret D. Daugherty. “We’re working on a new framework, some new support functions. It’s in development stages. We believe a lot of those response functions will fall outside the normal scope of operations and emergency management.”

Pre-disaster recovery planning is planning for circumstances both foreseen and unforeseen by mitigation and emergency management plans. For example, disasters often trigger hazard mitigation action items, updated zoning codes, and new building regulations that may impact a community’s rebuilding effort. Acting quickly following an incident helps establish a pattern for success and avoid the tendency for a community to return to old routines before the recovery is even underway.

Jim Baumgart, a senior policy advisor with the Governor's Office, talks with Major General Bret D. Daugherty.

“We are focused on recovery – two weeks, two months and two years after the disaster hits,” Taylor told the agency heads and their designees assembled at the Pierce County Readiness Center.
After the initial response to an incident, the focus shifts to recovery and could be on agencies responsible for helping recover flooded documents in a library or how to dispose of dead livestock. Debris removal could be an issue – balancing environmental laws while also trying to get people back into their homes as fast as possible when a log jam could make flooding worse. Then, there could be issues with temporary housing shortages, drinking water and getting pharmaceuticals to people who need them. Long-term, it’s all about getting infrastructure back on-line after power is restored, people back into their homes and figuring out ways to prevent future flooding.

Quinn Butler has been leading recovery efforts for the Washington Emergency Management Division, crafting the Washington Restoration Framework with a steering committee of state agency representatives. He hopes to have the framework to the Governor’s Office for review by the end of 2019. Portions of the plan are online at

“The main idea is that the Washington Restoration Framework aims to make those local and state resources stretch as far as possible because we’ll be limited on our own resources until the federal government steps in,” Butler said. “And even after the federal agencies step in, we’ll still need to make these programs go as far as possible. … It’s a blue-sky day with no disasters on the immediate horizon and we have this opportunity to establish this framework and build those partners to make sure we have a more resilient and more effective recovery.”

The dialogue and planning around recovery, especially recovery from a catastrophic event will continue as the state collaborates with local jurisdictions and federal partners on the next Cascadia Rising Exercise in 2022 which is based on a big 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami along the coast of Washington. A CSZ earthquake will place unprecedented demands on the state for both response and recovery.