Last year’s wildfire that ripped along the eastern edge of Cascade Locks unearthed a gap in the county’s emergency planning process.
Although Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler advised many residents in September 2003 to leave homes within the danger zone, he had no formal authority to enforce that request.
To prevent the possible loss of life during another “extraordinary event,” the Hood River County Commission adopted an Emergency Preparedness ordinance last week.
The term “emergency” is defined in the new code as any event causing or threatening loss of life and injury to people, property or the environment.
An emergency can also be created by human suffering and financial loss from a natural disaster, civil disturbance, riot, sabotage or war.
Under the new code, once county officials determine that a state of emergency exists, the following precautions may be taken:
* Establishment of a curfew within the identified emergency zone.
* Limiting or prohibiting public gatherings.
* Restrictions on both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
* Expelling or restricting people from a specific geographical area.
* Suspension of the competitive bidding process for quicker access to necessary goods, services and equipment.
* Redirection of county funds for emergency use.
* Other measures as needed to reasonably protect life, the environment and property.
Citizens failing to obey any directive during an emergency shall be charged with a civil violation.
The ordinance also establishes a chain of command for enforcement of emergency rules. The county board is charged with making the formal declaration of an emergency. If time is a factor, the chair may institute protection measures; however a majority of the board must concur at the first available opportunity.
If members of the elected body are unavailable, that duty falls to the county administrator, then the sheriff, followed by the public works director and, finally, the emergency services coordinator. The administrator is also given leeway to delegate his/her authority to the emergency services coordinator.
Similar emergency guidelines have also recently been put in place by the cities of Hood River and Cascade Locks. The three local government agencies were asked by Karl Tesch, county emergency services coordinator, to take that action to ensure the preservation of peace, safety and welfare of the citizenry.