Saturday, December 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Review of storm response ordered

Seattle Times staff reporter


Weather Rain should develop today and end tomorrow, and there will be showers on Christmas Day, said Dennis D'Amico, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Roads Traveling over Snoqualmie Pass could be difficult this morning with 5 to 9 inches of new snow expected and the snow level down to 1,500 feet. The state Department of Transportation recommends that travelers cross the pass Sunday, when there will be a break in the rain. In other developments, the Northeast Woodinville-Duvall Road reopened late Friday.

Gov. Christine Gregoire has demanded a review of the state's response to last week's storm, particularly whether there was appropriate help for the elderly, disabled and non-English speakers.

In a letter to Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, head of the Washington National Guard, Gregoire ordered a thorough review of windstorm response. She also asked for an expedited review of damage so that federal assistance can be requested quickly.

"We have been through a difficult fall," Gregoire wrote. "I ... ask you to conduct a full after-action review of how our Emergency Management Department in collaboration with other responders prepared for and responded to the windstorms, and provide any recommendations on how to improve these processes."

Specifically, she asked Lowenberg to investigate whether the state did a good enough job broadcasting the dangers of carbon-monoxide poisoning, particularly throughout the non-English-speaking community, and whether emergency shelters adequately met the needs of those with disabilities.

The governor asked Lowenberg to convene a team of state and local agencies, emergency management officials, private operators and elected officials and submit recommendations by March 1. At Seattle City Hall on Friday, council members grilled department headsabout how the city responded to last week's storm.

"I do have concerns," Councilman Tom Rasmussen said. "I think we can do better."

Six City Council members met with executives of several city departments Friday, "to not engage in finger-pointing or come up with excuses," but to find out what went right, what went wrong and learn from the experience, Council President Nick Licata said.

Much of the focus was on Seattle City Light.

Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said about half of the utility's 375,000 billed customers lost power because of the storm, with 95 percent having their power restored by 11 p.m. Sunday.

"We, in effect, were having to rebuild portions of our distribution system — from scratch, in some cases," he said. Appreciating the extent of the damage, however, is no consolation for those who went several days without electricity and heat, he added.

City Light did not receive assistance from outside contractors until a week after the storm hit because those crews were working elsewhere, Carrasco said. The Snohomish County PUD had an advantage because that utility had contractors in place, working on the aftermath of the November snowstorm.

Barb Graff, the city director of emergency preparedness, said the intensity of the storm — both the rain squall during the late afternoon of Dec. 14 and the 69 mph wind gusts later that night — made response difficult.

Seattle Public Utilities Director Chuck Clarke said the city's drainage system was "overwhelmed" by the amount of rain that fell in so short a time.

The city activated an emergency operations command center Dec. 14 at 5 p.m. — right after the rains hit and at a time 911 calls doubled in volume. But Graff shut the center down at 1 a.m., during the windstorm.

She reopened the center four hours later.

Carrasco defended his decision to send City Light line crews home after their shifts Thursday night, even though the weather forecast called for major gusts. He said repairs would have been difficult to make at the height of the storm, and that workers needed to be refreshed and ready in the morning.

Carrasco said line crews were called as early as 2 that morning, requesting that they report back to work at 4 a.m.

Meanwhile, King County Councilman Dow Constantine has asked for a formal council review of the local response to the storm.

"It's important that utility officials, government representatives, emergency preparedness experts and the public get a chance to discuss what was done well in reaction to this storm, what failings there were in the system and what we can learn from both," Constantine said.

He said he hopes the review can begin early next year.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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