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EMD Director briefs legislators on how emergency management works

Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle gave a natural disaster emergency communications briefing before the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee on Jan. 22.

The event, captured on TVW, preceded about 30 minutes of questions and answers between legislators and Ezelle focusing on everything from the legislators' role in a disaster to how the Small Business Administration could potentially help the communities in Grays Harbor in its recent flood. (Governor's Press Release on that here.)

Ezelle's presentation (downloadable here as a PDF) included a briefing on the National Response Framework including the National Incident Management System put in place Homeland Security as well as how the Incident Command system works -- and how important it is for those on scene and at the Emergency Operations Center to understand common terminology as well as have situational awareness of events.

"This is how we all work together when bad things happen," Ezelle told the committee.

Ezelle said that the framework at the Emergency Management Division helped the state agency respond to the disasters at the State Route 530 Landslide at Oso as well as last summer's fires in Eastern Washington.

Ezelle noted that the state Emergency Operations Center processed almost 400 resource requests as a result of the landslide, calling the requests "far reaching" and including K-9 teams, fatality and recovery teams, staffing augmentation teams, helicopters, generators, excavating equipment, decontamination teams, yurts, marsh boats, personal flotation devices, waders, vehicles and much more.

For the fires, resource requests ranged from Wi-Fi hot spots to fire suppression crews and mobile kitchens.

"I bring this up to highlight the different challenges and problems that individual disasters will bring," Ezelle told legislators. "Every one of them will be vastly different and bring about different challenges and resources."

Sometimes, the challenges require some true problem solving. Ezelle gave an example when Darrington needed to students and teachers from Darrington to Arlington, calling it one of their "critical unmet needs."

"We tried to broker a way on how to do this," Ezelle said. As a result, National Guard soldiers ended up driving students on Seattle City Light access roads for a period of time before school bus drivers could get certified to do that.

In Okanogan County, a taskforce looked at the size, type and number of generators needed to maintain governmental continuity of operations.

"Our hearts go out to those who are impacted by these historic disasters," Ezelle said. "For 133 days -- nearly 40 percent of the year -- our Emergency Operations Center was operating at an elevated status.

The director noted, "While Snohomish and Okanogan counties took center stage this spring and summer, most incidents our team responds to goes unnoticed," with the Alert & Warning Center at Camp Murray always staffed 24 hours a day to help coordinate everything from mountain rescues to chemical spills.

"The state’s Emergency Management Division recognizes that sustaining round-the-clock coverage following a major event will require many more trained people than we currently have on staff," Ezelle added. "We’re partnering with state agencies to make sure we’re prepared to respond following the next disaster."