Clatsop County Lagging in Disaster Planning

January 16, 2008

Clatsop County is one of two in Oregon with no disaster recovery plan registered with the federal government. But it may be among those most in need of one.

The state has been offering to help with one for five years. As the county crawls out from under its worst storm in 25 years, some wonder how a county at risk for forest fires, damaging winds, flooding, tsunamis and earthquakes can be without a plan.

The county manager says it’s the sheriff’s problem. The sheriff says he’s been working on it for years.

Emergency Operations Coordinator Gene Strong, hired for only half time, is preparing a plan to deal with disasters as they happen. And Astoria city officials want to register a plan of their own with the federal government but were told it must be a part of a countywide plan.

City leaders hint that the county has failed to show leadership on the mitigation plan.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will contribute to programs for disaster prevention but communities and agencies first must register the plans with FEMA.

In 2002, FEMA required state and local government to establish mitigation plans that deal with post-disaster emergency operations and risk reduction.

Lincoln County is the only other in Oregon with no plan on file with FEMA.

Astoria City Manager Paul Benoit said he didn’t know of the need for the plans until a landslide last year.

Dennis Sigrist, an Oregon Military Department hazard mitigation officer, said Oregon began working with counties in 2002, but could only encourage, not require, such plans by noting risk and the benefits of federal assistance.

“Mitigation planning is voluntary,” Sigrist said. “The state can provide tools and resources. In the end, the community has to choose whether it wants to develop a plan.”

Yumei Wang, a geotechnical engineer and hazards team leader at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, agreed.

“We have 36 counties in the state, and all of them are pretty far along,” she said. “I think Lincoln County and Clatsop are being kind of slow, and the state has been offering assistance to both.

“But with natural hazard plans, the state can’t come in and make them for the county. The county has to do this work.”

Clatsop County Manager Scott Derickson said it’s up to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Tom Bergin said Strong, the operations manager, spent the first two years creating an Emergency Operations Plan but hasn’t had time to form a mitigation plan.

Clatsop County engaged the Columbia River Estuary Study Task Force to begin forming a mitigation plan in September.

Estuary planner Jay Flint is coordinating county plans.

“Gene Strong hired CREST. They didn’t have the resources at the county to handle this yearlong process,” Flint said.

He said the former director of CREST, Catie Fernandez, obtained a grant to create the plan, then turned it over to him.

The committee developed a public-involvement strategy and is to calculate risk assessment strategy.

The third phase will develop procedures to help reduce the risks identified by the assessment.

Flint said the plan likely will not take into account man-caused disasters that normally involve businesses and proprietary knowledge.


Information from: The Daily Astorian,

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