Pin It
Favorite

Worst Case Planning 

Spokane bounced back well, but we need more coherent policies before the next big one

Power is back, and downed trees have been removed — most of them, anyway. We're all grateful for the Avista crews who worked night and day, as we are to the teams who came from all over the country to help us through our latest weather calamity. I ran into a team down from Canada, and another from Wisconsin. Stories of people helping people came with the morning paper.

click to enlarge herold.jpg

Many parts of the nation, we know, expect even tougher challenges. The Southeast faces a hurricane season every year. New England has its "Nor'easters." The Midwest and South have their tornado seasons. We all know about West Coast earthquakes. Notably, however, most of these areas of the country have moved disaster planning and mitigation front and center, asking some basic questions: How to prepare? What to expect? Where to go?

Here, we seem to have no clue. Why? Because we rely on reactive policies, which call for response-based priorities entirely dependent on reported storm damage. In effect, we do what passes for disaster preparedness and mitigation in a decidedly bass-ackwards way.

In most civil preparedness programs, we always begin with the perception of threat and work from there to frame what we in the Navy termed the "operational requirement," or objective. Then came the policies necessary to respond to those requirements. Lastly came the priorities — and the cost.

Threat perception requires the framing of a hypothetical scenario. In Florida, FEMA and the National Weather Service likely explore several possible storm scenarios — a Category 1 hurricane, Category 2 hurricane and so on. That's the threat. Next comes the question: What is the objective informing the response? Then policies and priorities start to reveal themselves.

In the past 20 years, we've been shut down by an ice storm, a windstorm and several serious winter snowstorms. But neither the city nor Avista seems to have learned anything from these previous storms.

And then there's climate change. Should we not expect to see the time intervals between such storms shortened? Science seems to think so. Which emphasizes even more the immediate need to do some serious disaster mitigation work.

So regarding our hypothetical threats here in the Inland Northwest? Why not another ice storm or windstorm? Perhaps even both on the same day. That's what they call a Worst Case Scenario. Specific objectives? Perhaps getting the power back on throughout the city in, say (pick a goal), not more than three days? Or clearing the streets in, say, 48 hours? The policies designed to meet these goals should clearly speak to workforce needs, scheduling, equipment and effort.

Nor have we done the necessary disaster mitigation research upon which all of the above should be based. Consider: Why did the power stay on downtown? Well, we suppose it was because the power lines are all underground in the downtown area. This realization should raise some questions. Yes, putting power lines underground is more costly, both to lay and to repair. But what are the trade-offs? Moreover, we obviously have some higher risk areas, which invite consideration of specific underground lines. What does our experience over the past two weeks tell us?

I'm quite certain the city has done no informative studies, and if Avista has, they haven't influenced the city's decision-making.

A related question: Assuming that the chief cause of power failures was trees falling into aboveground power lines, which species fared the worst? My quick visual tells me that pines took the worst beating, often breaking off, while spruce didn't do so well either, often uprooted completely. Douglas Firs generally weathered the storm best, as did deciduous trees. Like I say, that's just a visual run-through, but some post-storm research could inform our threat perception, which could influence our objectives, and then our policies and priorities. Such knowledge would certainly help inform future plans regarding our urban forest.

So let's see how disaster mitigation planning might work: First, we postulate the worst snowstorms of the past two decades. Now we know the threat. Next, we set the operational requirement — the time frames noted above.

Combine the two, and we can see the challenges: For one, we will need to get cars off the streets quickly. That can become a policy. So our priorities, driven by that policy, will have to adapt. For example, we quickly discover the first thing we need to do is clear off school and supermarket parking lots. But none of this shows up on our current priority list, because of the many disconnects created by our lack of civil preparedness.

Analysis, planning and research: we've been AWOL on doing any of this. Over the past two weeks, it showed once again. ♦

  • Pin It

Speaking of Comment, Weather

  • Not Backing Down
  • Not Backing Down

    The Trump administration's regressive policies won't outweigh the progressive values embodied by our city and state
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • The Road to 2027
  • The Road to 2027

    A closer look at Spokane's entrepreneurial needs
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • Thanks, Obama
  • Thanks, Obama

    The legacy of the 44th President goes far beyond the election of the 45th
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Comment

  • The Landed and the White
  • The Landed and the White

    How Americans followed tradition when they voted for Trump
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Do Something!
  • Do Something!

    Writers Resist, MLK Day activities and more ways to engage with your community
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • On the Street
  • On the Street

    Will you tip differently because of the minimum wage increase?
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
Lego Club

Lego Club @ Deer Park Library

Thursdays, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Continues through May 25

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Robert Herold

  • One Free Shave
  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • Migrant Industries
  • Migrant Industries

    John F. Kennedy predicted our current battles all the way back in 1954
    • Dec 15, 2016
  • Another Step Forward
  • Another Step Forward

    As her third season begins, Gonzaga women's basketball coach Lisa Fortier continues to put her stamp on the Zags
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • Thanks, Obama

    The legacy of the 44th President goes far beyond the election of the 45th
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

scandal


scandals


Comment


Briefs


green zone


Readers also liked…

  • To Kill the Black Snake
  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Healing Forward
  • Healing Forward

    Why Spokane shouldn't try to collectively own the Dolezal scandal
    • Jun 24, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation