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Sunday, September 18, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Katrina sparks review of emergency plans

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

City officials throughout the Puget Sound region are reviewing their emergency plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to ensure their cities are ready if a disaster, most likely an earthquake, strikes.

State law requires every city to develop a plan, which must be approved by the state and can outline everything from evacuation routes to how officials would deal with the loss of electricity or phone lines.

Here are some ways local governments are preparing:

Eastside cities

Robert Schneider, who heads emergency preparedness for Redmond, says the aftermath of Katrina has local disaster-response officials asking some hard questions.

"Are we capable of responding to an event of [a size] we've never seen in this country?" Schneider asked. "I think we'd be tremendously overtaxed."

Still, local disaster-response plans are designed for most scenarios. Cities have formed partnerships with major businesses, churches, schools and nonprofit groups to provide shelters and as many services as possible to residents.

In Redmond, police headquarters would serve as an emergency-operations center, with fire headquarters as a backup. Overlake Christian Church and City Church would be among groups providing help, Schneider said.

In Kirkland, every city employee is equipped with a fanny pack full of rations, glow sticks, Band-Aids and a blanket. By being prepared themselves, city employees could then help others, said Deputy Fire Chief Jack Henderson.

Many cities have used federal homeland-security grants to prepare for both terrorism attacks and natural disasters.

In Bellevue, which has received about $2.6 million in homeland-security money, a new $130,000 bomb-disposal robot could help clean up a hazardous-materials spill after an earthquake.

About $60,000 worth of ham radios would help city officials communicate in power outages, and new traffic cameras could help officials assess and clear damaged roads.

Snohomish County

Emergency-management officials in Snohomish County say they feel confident they could avoid many of the delays seen on the Gulf Coast.

"We can always learn from everybody else's mistakes," said Christine Badger, emergency coordinator for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. "I think our county is fairly well-prepared."

The department will focus on its plan to evacuate patients from nursing homes. "That seems to be a little bit bigger issue than we thought," Badger said.

Seven Snohomish County cities are linked under the Emergency Services Coordinating Agency to provide mutual aid. Similar networks exist among Eastside cities.

"Emergency management is 90 percent relational," said Schneider, the Redmond emergency manager. "If we're not willing to get hung up in turf or the politics in it, we'll be fine."

Still, city and county officials say they can do only so much. "I don't think you can expect local agencies to have the capability to completely cope with a cataclysmic event," said Bellevue police spokesman Michael Chiu.

"That's where the federal government is going to have to come in."

Staff reporter Brian Alexander contributed to this report.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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