The only difference between adventure and disaster is preparedness.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emergency Notifications...Your Thoughts?

Below is a news article out of the News Tribune in Tacoma. Our own county has a very similar system of "reverse 911" called Emergency Community Notification System (ECNS). This system has been in place in Cowlitz County for several years and has been used primarily to evacuate neighborhoods in flooding situations. We test this system every winter to make sure that it is still viable and running properly. We will be conducting a test this Monday, November 30th, in the Ryderwood area. At any rate, here is the article:

County's emergency robo-calls annoy, confuse Lakewood residents
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 7:17 AM PST
By Brent Champaco
The News Tribune

TACOMA, Wash. -- Pierce County’s emergency call system sent an automated plea for help to about 11,000 Lakewood homes when a disabled man went missing last week.But it appears the system might have prompted more questions and complaints than assistance from residents annoyed by the late-night and early-morning robo-calls.It all started when a 50-year-old man who recently moved to Lakewood went missing from his health care facility Thursday night. Authorities were concerned because he is deaf, has serious medical issues and has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.Police enlisted the help of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management and its automated, reverse-911 call system, the Intrado Notification System.At the request of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the system called 11,000 homes in the city’s southeast corner about 11:30 p.m. Thursday. A recorded voice asked residents to call police if they spotted the missing man. Those same residents got another call around 6 a.m. Friday.The good news was someone spotted the man in Federal Way early Friday. Police eventually found him at a bus stop, and he was taken back to his home.But the incident marked the first time Lakewood residents got calls via Pierce County’s emergency system, and some people weren’t too happy with the technology.“We certainly got quite a few calls Monday,” said Sheri Badger, spokeswoman for the Department of Emergency Management.Someone with the screen name “karlveek” wrote about the inconvenience on The News Tribune’s Web site.“I’m glad they found him,” the person wrote. “But did the Lakewood Police have to robo-call me at 6:30 a.m. today to inform me that he was missing(?) I don’t mind the computer-generated calls, but 6:30 in the morning is a little too early.”Badger said despite the complaints, the reverse-911 system works.The county’s emergency management department has relied on the system since 2003. It can geographically identify, warn and provide instructions to residents during an emergency, according to Intrado’s Web site.Up until this year, the county used the system primarily for evacuations and other emergencies. For example, Fife requested thousands of calls to warn people to evacuate during the region’s heavy flooding this year.Now, the county is also using the system to help find missing people. In October, it sent calls to Spanaway residents when a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient went missing. The system notified residents in South Hill of a missing 16-year-old girl this month.In both cases, the system helped police find the missing person safely, Badger said.Lakewood’s instance marked the third time the county used the system for missing persons.In every case, an incident commander decides whether to notify residents by phone and how many people the system should call. It’s capable of placing 41,600 calls per minute.Last week, an incident commander with the Sheriff’s Department decided to place calls to southeast Lakewood, Badger said.The system isn’t perfect. Someone with the county typed last week’s message into system incorrectly, so the voice told residents to dial “nine hundred eleven” rather than “9-1-1.” Badger said that won’t be an ongoing problem.Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary was one of the 11,000 residents who got last week’s calls.But instead of needing help, he assumed the missing man might be dangerous. The recorded voice didn’t make it clear.Neary said he appreciates how the system can help authorities.“I just think we need to educate people on what the plan should be,” he said.

I want YOUR thoughts. What do you think of using this type of notification system in a missing person situation? Please vote in the poll on the right-hand margin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Travel Tips

Ahhhh…Thanksgiving…a time to gather ‘round the table and participate in ritualistic gluttony with your extended family. For some people, this also means travelling over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. If you are one of the many Washington drivers that will be travelling this holiday season, check out these tips from the Washington State Department of Transportation website.
If you do not already have a car emergency kit, now would be a good time to consider getting one. You can purchase ready-made car emergency kits at local retailers (camping supply stores, automotive stores, etc) or you can make your own. Good items to keep in your car include:
*Non-perishable foods that can be eaten without cooking
*Blankets or sleeping bags
*Flashlight with extra batteries
*Jumper cables
*Toilet Paper

Be sure to remember to rotate the food and water at least once a year. It will be more than a minor inconvenience if you need your kit and all you have is a stale Tab soda and a Snickers bar from last century. So, in conclusion, pack smart, be patient and have a safe and happy holiday!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flooding Video

This is a real-life flooding video, shot by Marcie Maynes, owner of Simple-Safety. Scenes such as these serve as a friendly reminder to BE PREPARED for anything! To learn more about flood preparedness, visit our website at

Insulation, Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality Presentation

There will be an informative presentation on preparing your home for winter weather, learning energy saving tips and discussion about indoor air quality on Monday, December 14th at 6:00 pm at St. Helens Elementary School. BPI Certified Energy Auditor Steve Mott from Lower Columbia CAP will be on hand to discuss how to make your home more energy efficient and safe for winter months. Indoor air quality is also an important topic that will be discussed. According to the local Health Department's Healthy Homes Program Cowlitz County has twice the rate of asthma as the state and nation. Because children have unique vulnerabilities, they account for a disproportionate share of asthma sufferers. 22% of local children have been told by a medical professional that they have asthma.

The Healthy Homes Program is dedicated to helping families identify and reduce asthma triggers in their homes. Many people, and often children, spend a lot of time in their home. There are irritants or triggers in the home that can lead to asthma development and cause asthma attacks. Irritants in the home include tobacco smoke, dust mites, pets, mold, and cleaning products. The Healthy Homes Program, staffed with trained community volunteers, offers free home assessments and easy, no-cost, or low cost recommendations to reduce or eliminate those asthma triggers and improve indoor air quality.

To find out more information on the Healthy Homes Program, or to schedule a home evaluation, please call 414-5881 or click here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Boil Water Order Issued for Vader residents

There has been a "Boil Water" order issued for residents of Vader and Enchanted Valley. The city of Vader's water system has not been working properly and the system has had several water line breaks. Click here to see The Daily News for more information.

Weather Updates

Cowlitz County appears to be in the clear for flooding issues so far. The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the Grays, Nehalem and Willapa Rivers, but not for any of the rivers in our county. The storm system will weaken by late tonight and weather conditions should even out tomorrow and for the weekend. Stay tuned for any changes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We've Only Just Begun... raaaaain...Yes, two Carpenters song references in one week. Anyway, the hard working folks in the Department of Emergency Management participated in both the Portland and Seattle National Weather Service (NWS) briefings this morning. The NWS is following a developing weather front off the coast that will move in tonight and another front that will arrive tomorrow morning. High winds are expected on the Oregon and Washington coasts, but will dissipate as they reach Cowlitz County. The wind is not expected to be as strong as the storm that we experienced on Monday. The Lower Columbia/Cowlitz Valley area can expect 10 mph-15 mph sustained winds with 25-30 mph gusts. There will be intermittent heavy rain with this storm but not in amounts expected to cause flooding for our area. There have been no high wind or flood warnings issued for Cowlitz County. The NWS forecasts another storm system will arrive in our area over the weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Windy Days and Mondays....

...or something like that. At any rate, hold on to your figurative hats because it's about to get windy! The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory from 7:00 pm this evening until 4:00 am tomorrow for the Lower Columbia region and the I-5 corridor of Southwest Washington. South winds are expected to increase to 25-35 mph with gusts of 45 mph during the evening and continuing overnight. The winds are being produced ahead of a strong Pacific cold front and will decrease by sunrise on Tuesday morning as the cold front moves in. Sounds like a good night to stay inside and play Monopoly. I get to be the top hat!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hazard Mitigation Open Houses

Do you need information about how to prepare for winter storms? Do you want information about how your local government and emergency responders plan to minimize the effects of natural hazards such as flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and winter storms? The Cowlitz County Department of Emergency Management is holding three meetings on November 19th at the following locations throughout Cowlitz County:

10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m.---Castle Rock Exhibit Hall (147 Front Street)

2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.---Woodland City Hall (230 Davidson Street)

7:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.---Cowlitz County PUD Auditorium (961 12th Ave, Longview)

Attendees will learn how to prepare for a winter storm and receive advice on what actions to take during a storm event. Additionally, staff from the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments will present information about the current planning process for the county's Hazard Mitigation Plan. This important plan includes specific actions and programs necessary to minimize the losses during future natural disasters. The discussion will include a proposed scope of work for completing the federal update requirements and information on how the public can participate in the planning process.

Members of the public are invited to attend the meeting to learn about the hazards affecting our county and the Hazard Mitigation Plan update process. For more information, please contact Matt Hermen or T.J. Keiran at (360) 577-3041.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spring Ahead, Fall Back

Daylight saving time was last weekend, did you change your smoke detector batteries? I know I'm a little late to the party, story of my life, but daylight saving time is not only a great time to change out your smoke detector batteries, but also to rotate out some of the stored food and water that you have in your emergency kits. Some dried, canned and otherwise non-perishable foods are ok to consume a little past their prime, but if you have granola bars in your kit that were made when Clinton was in office, you may want to consider tossing them. Also, pay attention to the dates on your bottled water. It may seem like water should last forever (which it does) but the plastic containers do not. Eventually plastics (especially PET, PETE, and HDPE types, generally 1's and 2's in the little recycling triangle) begin to degrade and leach chemicals into the water. After the plastic is beyond its "use by" date, it's best just to dump it out and recycle the container. On a slightly related note, does anyone else find daylight saving time vaguely disturbing? The fact that someone can just say, "ok, now it's 6:00, not 7:00", and that's just the way it is? It's not only that, it's the fact that "time" i.e. hours, minutes, seconds, is merely a concept constructed by own minds in order to attempt to quantify infinity. Ok, no more coffee today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cooking in the Dark, An Additional Class

Response to the "Cooking in the Dark" classes have been overwhelming and we are now full! I have added a third class on December 1st, 6:00 pm, General Meeting Room of the Cowlitz County Administration Building (third floor), 207 N. 4th Ave. If you are interested in this hands-on learning opportunity and have not signed up yet, please send me an email at or call the office at 577-3130 to sign up.