Building Back King County Through Cooperation and Inclusion

King County is now recognized as a world leader in recovery due to the emphasis of communication and inclusion between all agencies and entities that were affected 10 years ago. With this added cooperation we are now able to build back stronger and better that fit the needs of the community.

This story is a work of fiction, including all names and quotes, written by WWU DRR students for public education purposes. Site design by Dr. Scott Miles.

Since the earthquake hit King County the opportunity had presented itself that our local, state governments as well as other various entities can be more connected by the dangers of a natural events and the understanding how to act when these issue arise.

“Ten years later and this community has been able to bounce back and make an even greater come back then we ever anticipated was possible”, King County Planning director Ross Ingram said.

There many things that King County had to fix in their plan to recovery in order to build back stronger and more resilient. The main issue that was creating a broken structure for recovery was the key component of communication and involvement. In order to understand how to build back stronger, King County decided to get as many parties involved as possible such as stakeholders, organizations, business owners, community members, professional planners and correspondents that work for the city. With added participation and more involvement in the rebuilding process, the actions are more defined and concise.

“When the earthquake hit, there seemed to be a lot of confusion. There wasn’t a lot of action being taken by the different agencies. Instead it seemed to me like there were a lot of people just standing around looking for something to do”, said Seattle resident Jill Burton.

More enhanced focus on maintaining communication among one another is important because it helps make sure that everyone knows their responsibilities and duties they have to perform when a hazard event is occurring. This organization of different groups is critical in order for plans to work out the way they should so that nobody steps on  eachothers feet. One way the King County Emergency Management team has been able to reserve this trend is by specialized monthly meetings that incorporate as many small businesses in the area as possible. At these meetings, the different businesses in the community share their needs and ideas about what direction they want and are seeing the community go in. This will ensure that their thoughts and concerns are being heard by higher powers and can create a good working relationship among the different levels of society.

“It’s nice to see that the public officials are interested in hearing the ideas of the business in our area. Being such a valuable asset economically to the area, we definitely need to be included in the recovery steps”, Bagel shop owner Maria Tinkle said.

This coordination between government and small businesses was reminiscent of the Sandy Work Action Team that was proposed by congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez of New York back in 2014. In her plan, service providers, elected officials, and small business representatives got together to discuss potentials and challenges that they were currently facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many levels of government also pledged to dedicate resources and find ways to ensure that small businesses wouldn’t go under because of the disaster.

The King County meetings had similar promise, and showed the businesses and stakeholders that sharing their economic resources would be in the best interest of the community. When a hazard hits again and damage is sustained by buildings, the businesses as well as other agencies will see the benefit of giving up short term gains for long term benefits. Without giving up some of their money to be put towards building back the community, their business will be subsequently affected directly.

A huge situation we had to face was making sure that major corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and Boeing all remained local to that area. The special meetings we held monthly  wereonly for small businesses. For major corporations, we have setup bi-monthly meetings making sure their ideas are aligning with those of the community and the goals of the planning department.  Many of these corporations realize the importance they are to local economy and number of jobs in the area and losing them would be devastating to not a small pocket of people but the entire State of Washington.

Part of building back stronger has a lot to do with retrofitting and making sure old designs are made safe by these retrofits. Since the earthquake, we have been able to  require by seismic code that any building that is in the affected area needs to be earthquake proof. It needs to be structurally sound and not have any unreinforced masonry or non-anchored wood foundations. If they do have those things, they either need to be retrofitted or completely changed. Retrofitting though it may seem confusing and expensive is a really quite easy. The county provided classes that not only educated the people that were affected about the dangers of living in an earthquake prone zone, but also they can learn how to properly anchor the structures to the foundations preventing further damage to their houses or the houses around them.

“I have always thought retrofitting would be an expensive and painful task to do, especially the anchoring of my structure to the foundation. But in reality it doesn’t take too much skill!”, said Seattle Resident Matt Eichler.

These classes really helped spread the word about how vulnerable King County is by word of mouth to other residents in the area. Thismade the overall area more in tune with what types of dangers that residents may encounter. But also the spread of how to anchor the buildings to their foundations spread like wildfire to surrounding residents as well.

“It was a real pleasant surprise to see that amount of people that turned out for these workshops, I just hope that people are now better prepared and educated for the next one” Instructor Kelsey Hillman said.

The greatest thing we did after the earthquake was restructure our entire way of looking at hazards and making sure that all these players that are affected by these events not only act on an individual basis but also function as one entity. With the monthly meetings for small business and bi-monthly meetings between big corporations, we also adopted tri-monthly meetings between all the various organizations, businesses (small and large), city planners, city correspondents and stakeholders. In these meetings, we split up the groups to form different subgroups. For example, we would have one representative from each group to join a subgroup. In these subgroups the representatives give updates on where they are on certain projects, concerns they may have, and anything along those lines.

“These meetings really helped us all make sure where we were at among recovery and pre-hazard mitigation. But also hearing how other organizations and business are dealing with issues is helpful so that we can advise them in the right direction. The sharing of ideas is also good because then other groups can adopt the same practices when running into the similar situations”, CEO of Dirty Dogs Brian Utley said.

During the earthquake, we had a good amount of buildings that ended up sustaining damage. Some of these buildings were historical buildings that provided an area with a feel or vibe that cannot be repeated. Many of the buildings that were affected are considered to be historical landmarks. The community organized and came to the county’s planning department with concerns of getting those buildings back up.

The community organizer Kim Tien said that “we want to keep the historical feel that the City of Seattle identifies with but also want them to be structurally sound.”

This was one of the more difficult scenarios we had to face during the recovery process. We collaborated with the engineers and the public is to see what types of retrofits would work for the city.

This level of public involvement was inspired by The United Nations Centre for Regional Development’s “School Earthquake Initiative.” The initiative took place in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region such as the Fiji Islands, India, Indonesia and Uzbekistan. The projects goal was to reduce vulnerabilities by retrofitting school buildings in a participatory way that included citizen involvement. This helped them build disaster resistant communities through self help projects as well as education about their methods.

Continuing the emphasis exemplified by the Initiative, Planning Director Trevor Gundy said “we also took this opportunity to educate the greater public about why it is important to retrofit these old historical buildings. Explaining to them if those buildings are lost you can lose a whole unique feel which could really hurt the value of that area.”

The Holyoke building in Seattle was one of the historic buildings to sustain damage during the earthquake (Ashworth).

The Holyoke building in Seattle was one of the historic buildings to sustain damage during the earthquake (Ashworth).

We were able to portray this so well that after we fixed and retrofitted all the damaged buildings, we were pushed and backed by the public to retrofit all the historical buildings in the greater Seattle area. This ensures that there will be no loss of a sense of place and or identity further protecting.