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Pt 2: King County to Residents- Dam…

September 24, 2009

I have been meaning to post this for WELL over a week, and it’s just been one thing after another- and then I plum FORGOT until 1 of my neighbors asked me about the dam yesterday- so here it is!

I wrote a post (boy, it’s update day around here) a few weeks ago about the likely hood that my home, and thousands of my neighbors’ homes (and local businesses) are going to flood because of the condition of the Howard Hansen Dam.  The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the dam, is planning to release more water than normal this rainy season to protect the stability of the dam given its already weakened state.  Flippin’ great…

An email came into the SV in response to the post from Natasha Jones, Deputy Communications Director at Executive Triplett’s office.  It was so informative I asked her if I could post it in full- she said yes, so here it is:

Hi Sable – I saw your post on the Green River Valley flooding issue and wanted to follow up with some additional info about what’s being done to get the word out to residents about the Howard Hanson Dam situation and how to prepare themselves and their families.

The dam is a federal facility run by the Army Corps of Engineers so they’ve been focused on finding a fix since the dam abutment sinkholes were discovered in January. In the meantime, the county and cities have focused on using their staff capacity and networks to do the kind of street-level outreach to the surrounding cities and communities that’s needed in this situation.

There’s actually quite a lot being done that you and other Green River Valley residents should be aware of and lots of information available for those who may not have heard about the flood situation or been contacted yet.

You asked what the King County Flood Control District (KCFCD) has done for King County residents related to the Howard Hanson Dam issue. A better question is what is being done by all of the jurisdictions in King County on this issue, since the KCFCD is not the only agency or entity tasked with managing flood-related impacts. The answer is: a lot.

The cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila all have flood outreach, communications, and mitigation work underway and are coordinating with King County. Each jurisdiction is taking responsibility for notifying its residents and coordinating with the regional outreach effort. However, because of its size and access to other elected leaders and resources, King County and its Executive often takes on the role of rallying or convening city leaders and regional, state, and federal officials for specific projects of regional benefit, which is also eliminates the silos that often develop between even neighboring cities within King County.

Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis was the one who alerted King County Exec. Kurt Triplett to the Howard Hanson Dam issue earlier this year. Since then Exec. Triplett has made preparing for the potential flooding of the Green River Valley a top priority. He mobilized dozens of King County employees to identify problems and find solutions for the region as whole and contacted the state’s congressional delegation to get money and help flowing from the state and federal level. More info on recent flood-related developments on his site.

King County staff and staff from the Green River Valley cities have been having regional operations and communications coordination meetings since earlier this year so that the limited time, money and staff resources we all have are being used to reach the most residents and businesses most efficiently given the compressed time frame we have before the rainy season starts next month.

This focus and outreach has resulted in dozens of TV, radio, print and online coverage of the dam, what’s at risk and what people can do to prepare. King County and the Green River Valley cities have also held nearly two dozen public outreach meetings and briefings on the situation.

An informational flood update meeting organized by King County and the KCFCD in March drew 600 residents and the one this week at Green River Community College in Auburn drew an overflow crowd. Web hits on our flood pages spike after each mailing, meeting and the corresponding media coverage, so the word is getting out and retailers are reporting a jump in sales of flood To Go Kits by residents getting their homes and families prepared. A number of other meetings, outreach events and public service announcements are also planned for the coming weeks.

Another of the most visible parts of the effort are those bilingual fliers you mentioned that went out to homes and businesses (it’s also posted on the county’s flood preparedness page in English and six of the most common languages spoken by valley residents). You can download it there or if you’re comfortable calling or e-mailing me with your address, I’ll check into why you didn’t receive one at your location and make sure our list gets updated. We used mailings lists based on zip code databases for the potential flood impact area, so inevitably there’s someone who lives across the street or around the corner from a computer-imposed boundary who gets left out.

We’ve received more than 500 calls based on information in the brochure about things like how to prepare for a flood, contact numbers for sandbags, the Red Cross, roads and more and there’s been additional demand from Valley businesses, professional organizations, schools and other groups, that want extra fliers to hand out. So we’ve gone through the initial run of 185,000 fliers and the 15K reprint and plan another run soon.

Several of the cities have done door-to-door distribution of information about the flood and what to do. Some have done multiple door-to-door outreach efforts. The King Co. Sheriff and Fire District 44 plan a door-to-door effort in King County’s unincorporated area, and the valley cities and Red Cross have volunteer groups that have upcoming door-to-door outreach in the works.

The Red Cross also has a program called Passagaes which provides flood information to bilingual immigrant children. Public Health Seattle-King County is doing outreach to vulnerable populations using its existing network of 200+ organizations and service providers such as health clinics, the YMCA, Goodwill, Section 8 housing, and low-income resident advocates. Finally, the Tukwila School District is using its diverse student body to get flood information out. The students speak 72 different languages at home and the district is training students to take home information modules to help non-English speaking parents prepare.

So although the Corps says there’s only a 1 in 3 chance of significant flooding related to the problem on the dam’s abutment, Exec. Triplett and regional leaders would be remiss to hope for the best. Instead, they’ve been working together to get the word out about the situation and collaborating on plans for operational changes, sheltering, evacuations, information dissemination, and other actions to get valley residents informed and prepared for even the possibility of this type of significant flooding.

Hope this is useful. If you have any questions, let me know. – Natasha

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 11:31 pm

    Great! Now when are they going to do right by the Hispanic communities? There was a recent article (I believe in the Seattle Times) or that showed most residents in the Spanish speaking community, have not received any info. I can only imagine if the Russian or Somalian communities received any info.

    This is what made Katrina so tragic. The poor, “have nots” were not important enough and they were left hanging.

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