Better response to disasters needed, panel on Oso told

OLYMPIA — Communities ripped asunder by the Oso mudslide are recovering, one tough day at a time.

And state resources are still very much needed by families and businesses coping with the emotional and financial toll of the deadly March 22 landslide, civic leaders told a state Senate panel Thursday.

New laws also are necessary to ensure a less bumpy response to disasters in the future than they experienced in those initial hours and days after Steelhead Haven was buried under mud on a quiet Saturday morning.

“It was pretty chaotic in the beginning,” Oso fire Chief Willy Harper told the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.

Harper, Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and Pete Selvig of Darrington each described a system for emergency response that was overwhelmed by the circumstances.

Communication went down as most phone service was lost. A request to mobilize fire crews statewide was denied.

A command trailer for emergency responders arrived in Arlington and got sent back to Olympia, though it was needed on the Darrington side of the slide.

They all had something to share.

Harper said he tried to initiate a statewide wildfire-type mobilization but was rebuffed. Such a mobilization would not have saved lives but it would have enabled managing of the emergency to go smoother at the outset, he said.

“It is a system that works,” he said.

Selvig, a retired U.S. Forest Service technician, a former Darrington School Board member, and member of the rural community’s emergency response team, said there was an incident command team on the Arlington side of the slide before there was one on the Darrington side, fomenting confusion and a lack of coordination.

In the first three days he said he was a “nervous wreck” because it was unclear who was in charge of what. He couldn’t round up supplies for crews and volunteers and faced resistance from different authorities to his appeals for more body bags and portable toilets.

Rankin and Tolbert also shared their frustrations with trying to gather information they could share with residents.

“Communication is definitely at the top of my list,” Rankin said, noting residents looked to him to get their questions answered and he encountered much difficulty doing so early on.

Senators also heard from Kathy Lombardo, executive director of an independent commission examining emergency response and land-use decisions. It’s drafting recommendations to deliver Dec. 15 to Gov. Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

She didn’t discuss commission findings or preliminary recommendations.

But she said the panel’s goal is to decide “what recommendations if implemented today would make civilians safer tomorrow.”

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said he hoped they would look beyond landslides and be applicable in the event of any large-scale disaster.

“Hopefully we’ll put together solutions so all this dysfunction doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Afterward, Sen. Kirk Pearson said he expects the commission will make recommendations to improve the state’s incident management system.

“There were lessons learned from this,” he said. “I am prepared to do something.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Snohomish County seeks input on spending American Rescue Plan dollars

In-person events across the county will help guide more than $80 million in federal recovery money.

Mandy Jeffcott and Aaron King explore the area beneath a highway underpass while conducting a PIT count Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County homelessness rose to 10-year high, count shows

Data released Monday confirmed what advocates suspected: The local homeless population grew amid the pandemic.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

Everett
Nonprofit offers free mental wellness event for local teens

The Saturday gathering at EvCC, sponsored by Leadership Launch, is for teens in eighth grade through college.

Everett
‘Prepper’ arrested in Everett after grenade, explosives found

The suspect was described as “anti-government,” police wrote. He remained in custody Monday.

State Rep. April Berg will resign from Everett School Board

The Mill Creek Democrat will step down June 1. Meanwhile, she filed Monday for re-election to the state House.

Juan Luna, left, and Jeff Austin tune up bicycles to be donated Tuesday afternoon at Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Afghanistan, Ukraine refugees get bikes, bus passes and rides

One nonprofit needs volunteers to repair 40 kids bikes for refugees. Another agency could use cash gift cards.

A woman was struck by a car while crossing HIghway 99 on Dec. 2, 2021. (Lynnwood Police Department)
Woman charged in Highway 99 death of Lynnwood pedestrian, 72

Prosecutors allege Tachelle Thomas was under the influence of THC when she hit and killed Fozieh Shirdelhefzabad, 72, in 2020.

Rainey Forzetting makes a kratom smoothie at her home in Lake Stevens, Washington on March 29, 2022. Blueberries, 6 grams Kratom, a triple berry mix, almond butter, pomegranate and oak milk make up her daily concoction. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Sold as elixir, kratom popularity surges in ‘Wild West’ of legality

Doctors warn kratom, an opioid alternative, is addictive and ripe for abuse. Yet it’s unregulated and sold at any smokeshop.

Most Read