If Disaster Happens

Local agencies support county’s natural hazards mitigation plan

The Port of Hood River added its name to the list of agencies that have adopted The Hood River County Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, a document that details the area’s prominent natural hazards and lays out mitigation strategies.

This plan is meant to help the county prevent future emergencies, or at lease minimize and withstand their effects, increase adaptability to change and by doing so, reduce costs.

“It’s not a response plan … it’s intended to prevent longer-term loss,” said Barb Ayers, Hood River County’s Emergency Services manager, at the port commission’s Oct. 2 meeting. Ayers presented major components of the plan at that meeting before commissioners signed the document later that evening.

The plan has also been adopted by Hood River County, the Port of Cascade Locks and the City of Cascade Locks, with the City of Hood River expected to adapt soon. Once local agencies have shown their support, the plan can be finalized and obtain state and federal approval.

The county’s emergency management program is partially funded by state grants, which require the county to update its mitigation plan every five years. The update itself was entirely grant-funded, Ayers said.

The plan itself combines a natural hazards profile with a community profile and divides the findings into two parts: A risk assessment and a mitigation strategy.

Hood River County’s two biggest natural hazards are winter storms and wildfires. The county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has declared three emergencies in the last 18 months, all related to natural hazards: Drought in the summer of 2015, January 2017’s winter storm, and the Eagle Creek fire last year. Going back further, the county suffered an ice storm in 2012, the Dollar fire in 2011 and the 2006 flood that formed the sandbar.

“There are a million other small incidents, but those are the declared ones,” Ayers said.

The region is also at risk for severe landslides due to the Eagle Creek fire destabilizing much of the land mass, and studies show that the Cascadia Earthquake, also called “the big one,” is on the horizon.

While the county is a collection of small communities, it’s part of a vital transportation corridor due to I-84 which, dangerously, is one of the only ways in or out. Anything that closes I-84 has the potential to be detrimental to both Hood River County and the communities connected to us via the interstate, Ayers said. The bridges and railroad are also vulnerable to disruption and damage.

The mitigation strategy ranks actions by priority and the county’s ability to carry them out within the plan’s five-year lifespan.

The top two priorities are to develop an evacuation, shelter and notification plan; and to address structural issues in vulnerable and critical facilities. Wy’east and Hood River Middle Schools, as well as May Street Elementary and both West Side and Hood River fire departments, have already been identified as essential buildings in need of retrofitting.

The county did create an evacuation plan “on the fly” for the Eagle Creek fire, Ayers said, but that plan needs to be reviewed and formalized.

Other items include enhancing public outreach, coordinating volunteer efforts and developing a shelter plan.

“Some of them we can do and some of them we’ve already accomplished … but a significant amount would require grant funding,” Ayers said, adding that having a mitigation plan makes the county eligible for a number of grants.

The plan in its entirety can be accessed via the Department of Emergency Management’s page on the county’s website.

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