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State agencies prep for winter weather


EMD Disaster manager Adam Wasserman leads discussion during a tabletop exercise Nov. 1.

State agencies prep for winter weather

Dozens of state agency officials gathered Nov. 1 to look at various winter weather scenarios in a regular tabletop hosted by the Washington Emergency Management Division.

The goal, said tabletop organizer Ed Taylor, was to get agency leaders to review their roles in response and transition to recovery after severe winter weather, and also to ensure agencies reviewed continuity of operations plans.

In one scenario, flood waters overwhelmed Thurston, Lewis and Mason counties with wastewater treatment plants inundated and damaged, evacuations of homes and issues with shelters and schools.  A few weeks later, a significant snow and ice storm rocks the region with extended power outages across the state leading to overwhelmed utilities.

Amid all of that, avalanches shut down all three passes through the Cascades for a week.

Taylor, who works for the Washington Emergency Management Division, said the scenarios were built on real events involving flooding and winter weather.

Agency officials talked about sheltering options, transportation challenges and critical issues. For instance, how would agencies handle a nursing home that loses power and there’s not enough hospital bed capacity? Or if power is off long enough, would there be challenges with not just food and water, but cash supply and getting funds to people?

Whether the state is in for some serious winter weather this season isn’t certain, but planning for it should always be the case, said Major General Bret D. Daugherty, The Adjutant General of the Washington Military Department.


Major General Bret D. Daugherty, The Adjutant General (center) next to David Postman,

Chief of Staff to Gov. jay Inslee; and Chris Liu, director of the state Department of Enterprise Services. 

“The National Weather Service is telling us we’re probably in for a milder La Niña winter than last year,” Daugherty said. “It’s a good chance it’ll be wetter and colder than normal and probably not as wet as it was last year. This type of weather can typically deliver flooding and lowland snow across the state. It’s been a while since we’ve had a serious winter storm in western Washington, but you might remember last year we had some flooding in January and March that we had to respond to.”

“The good thing is we can see the storm coming,” he added.

Washington Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle said that the tabletop was a good example of why getting Two Weeks Ready shouldn’t just be for earthquakes. An overwhelmed power system with back-to-back storm events may lead to power outages for a week or longer in some areas.

“Public preparedness, getting two weeks ready, is just as important for lengthy winter weather, too,” Ezelle said.

Ezelle said it’s also important that life safety information be put out in other languages, following new state law that went into effect in July.

The tabletop exercise, hosted on the capitol campus, gave agency leaders a chance to compare notes on their continuity plans. If a winter weather event were to happen in a busy January, with the Legislature in session, the strategy might be slightly different compared to a capitol campus with fewer people.

David Postman, chief of staff to Gov. Jay Inslee, noted that if the winter weather got bad enough in Olympia, but was better elsewhere, the governor’s staff is nimble enough that they could relocate if necessary.

Chris Liu, the director of the state Department of Enterprise Services, told the group that training is done with the city of Olympia each year specifically addressing potential winter weather events.

“We review our Continuity of Operations plans every year because there’s always lessons to learn, but there’s always going to be surprises, too,” Liu said.

“If you don’t have Internet, if your cell phone has poor reception, how would you communicate with your employees?” asked Adam Wasserman, the E911 Unit Manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division, who served as the disaster manager facilitating the discussions. “How many people have all their phone numbers printed out?”


Kate Jacob of the Secretary of State's Office fields a question, sitting
next to Wash EMD Director Robert Ezelle.

Wasserman also urged state agencies to work together if they need to contact local officials during an emergency so agencies “don’t strike out on their own, so we don’t overload the locals with 10 different agencies all at once.”

This is the third tabletop exercise for state leaders this year, with prior events focusing on a lahar event and a cybersecurity attack.