Snow storm, Feb. 2001Staff from the Office of Emergency Management recently reported back to the Council on their experiences at a multi-day training focused on how the City would respond to an extreme winter storm. The crisis exercise was built around a scenario that combined elements of the Seattle’s worst winter experiences – a 21 inch snowfall that occurred in 1950 with 25 to 50 mile per hour winds and a 5 inch rainfall that occurred in 2003. The team of 47 City department representatives and 22 community partners heard presentations from four East Coast cities about lessons learned from their past winter storm events and then worked through a scenario.

Based on the exercise and the experiences of the Eastern cities with events such as Hurricane Sandy, the team identified five critical goals and three core policy questions that required further investigation. The five critical questions that would be fundamental to the City’s response to such an extreme winter storm are:

  • Given the City’s limited snow removal resources, how would we manage snow removal over time in this kind of scenario?
  • How would we deliver human services in this extended period to those most in need?
  • How would we maintain other City services, such as solid waste management, that can be postponed for a short time but become increasingly problematic if the emergency persists?
  • How do we mobilize to address core logistical challenges over time?
  • How do we communicate and do effective outreach to ensure that City residents are fully informed and aware of what is happening and how to access needed resources?

The training exercise helped team members identify how to address these issues in a real-time environment, learn team skills and how to work together most effectively, and learn about the resources that other Departments and agencies can bring to bear that can help in addressing these issues.

The team also identified three policy questions that should be explored that might not be critical in a short term scenario but that could be important as the crisis continues:

  • Given that Seattle is the core hub for supplying Alaska, how would we maintain the supply chain to Alaska so that Alaskans would not suffer major consequences?
  • Since there is a limited amount of fuel storage in Seattle, how would we access fuel supplies and set priorities as to how limited supplies would be allocated?
  • If snow coverage persists in quantities that are difficult to manage, could the resources of Seattle Steam be engaged to melt snow?

The team also noted that having resources and advice from the Commission on Disabilities is critical to ensuring that this community will be provided with effective assistance in this kind of a scenario.

We don’t know when an extreme winter storm event will happen, or when a major earthquake will take place, but we do know that we must be ready for both scenarios. This kind of team training exercise prepares us for experiences that we hope we may never have – but that we must be ready for if they do come about.