Stronger Through Cooperation and Inclusion

King County is now recognized as a world leader in recovery due to the emphasis the county had made towards communication and inclusion between all the agencies and entities that were affected by the Seattle Fault Earthquake 10 years ago. With added participation the residents and county were 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.

Following the earthquake that hit King County an idea presented itself to the County’s Emergency Management Office that the local and state governments, various organizations, the public and businesses can all be and need to be included in the rebuilding process of the county. Breaking down the many walls that had been systematically setup was the most important goal for King County to begin building back stronger.

The best plan that was set by King County was the specialized meetings that occurred every other month. These meetings allowed anyone that was interested to be included in the rebuilding process. King County’s Emergency Management Office tried a new approach with these big venue meetings.

The county decided to break the different players up into different sub groups that consisted of a variety of players in each sub group. For example there were be a business owners, concerned public citizens as well as a people representing a nonprofit organizations in each sub group. The County’s Emergency Management Office planned this way to broaden the horizons of each of the different perspectives that were attending these meetings.

Rock’N Roll Pizza owner Sandra Harden explains what these meetings have good for the community.

“The meetings have increased so much communication in the rebuilding process. It really benefited everyone to hear and see how people were thinking. It gives the county a good insight on potential obstacles and opportunities they have to face in the future, while making sure that the various players were informed” Sandra Harden.

Fostering communication among one another is an important part of the rebuilding process. It guarantees that each of the sectors will know what their responsibilities and duties that they have to perform for when another hazard event occurs.  These specialized meetings allowed for companies, organizations, agencies and the public to all work alongside each other with clear ideas of who does what and how to do it. This type of operation had generated a more efficient model for rebuilding a community. With everyone keeping good communication among each other ensured that there would be no stepping on toes with future issues.

King County’s Office of Emergency Management conducted tri-monthly meetings to make sure that everyone’s understands the responsibilities that were created for them. Similar to the specialized meetings these meetings would only be for business owners though. This made sure that business owners knew they were thought as an important asset economically and to the whole community. The meetings made sure that the thoughts and concerns of the business owners were being heard by the County’s office and public officials.

These officials then may be able to do something about the concerns that were expressed. This turned out to work very well for the city and ended up creating a good working relationship among the different sectors and levels of society. At these meetings different business in the community shared their needs and ideas about the direction they wanted their communities to go in.

“It was nice to see that the public officials are finally taking interest in hearing the ideas of the businesses in our area. Being such a valuable asset to the localized area we definitely wanted our voices to be heard. Overall the impacts of this inclusionary planning has done wonders for the local community. Connected us in so many various ways. It’s unreal!” Bagel Superstar Owner Maria Tinkle said.

Another great involvement method that went into action were the creation of street block unions. Street block unions are businesses that had ownership over designated street blocks. When these businesses were taxed, a small amount of the taxation would go into a pool of money that was to be used freely by the unions. The unions then used that money in a way that bettered their communities. Whether that meant retrofitting buildings, creating public open space or organizing neighborhood meetings.

Small business owner John Davis owns a smoke shop located in one of the designated street blocks that is part of the street block union. Though his building was awfully ran down and had gotten a lot of negative feedback from the community the implementation of the street block union helped him retrofit and fix up his story to little or no cost to him.

“The street block unions have done nothing for this community but good things for the 5 years that’s it had been implemented. Not only me but many other places business districts have been able to structurally fix businesses that were out of shape. It’s nice that they had these sort of plans ready to be used because it keeps the economy going locally.” Davis remarked.

Getting the public involved was the hardest issue that the King County Emergency Management Office had to deal with. There were several ways they went about gathering the public and were able to feed them the necessary knowledge for their safety. One cool approach to this problems was setting up a Twitter account for the County to make and receive various questions from the public. Months after the earthquake hit the use of technology and social media became a central way for the county to communicate with the public.

““I had the idea of sending out a tweet that informed the public there was going to be classes that could be taken to help them understand the dangers of living in the King County. The classes provided the public what they can do themselves to help protect themselves and their houses in the future” Becs Hovercraft an officer for the King County Emergency Management Office.

Getting the public involved 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.

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

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

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.

There were two different education programs that exploded after the earthquake struck King County. These education programs have been vital when encouraging citizen involvement. The attendance at both of these functions was high, with more then 150+ people showing up on two different occasions to educate themselves on the risk that they have encountered or may encounter living here.

The first education program taught the citizens of the apparent dangers such as earthquakes, landslides and flooding. The program explained to the public the different outcomes that could result from these hazard events and how to protect themselves from these natural events.

New resident and local musician Harley LaGro moved here 3 years after the earthquake had hit King County. He now lives on Lake Washington. Harley was one of the participants of the first workshop learning about all the various dangers that he could be facing in the future.

LaGro stated, “It was extremely beneficial to attend these classes that were held by the county. Living in Arizona my whole life up to a couple years ago I didn’t know what geological pressures or hazards I could be facing. I soon learned when I had a pretty good size landslide next to my house on the lake. The good thing is I knew what I had to do in order to order to repair and maintain a more stable soil.”

The second education program let the public get their hands dirty and taught them how to protect the structure of their homes and buildings. The participants are taught how to secure their wooden structured homes to the foundation that they resided on. The office of emergency management were able to do this by showing the materials that the public needed to buy and how to go about anchoring the structure to the foundation.

The instructor Lisa Brown explains why classes like these are important for the public to readily know and the future for the education that gained.

“The hope is that we are providing information that the greater public doesn’t know.  We want the citizens to know how to anchor in their homes to its foundation and understand that it is a relatively easy process that cost a lot less then hiring a certified contractor. The King County’s Office of Emergency Management promotes community’s members to share what they learned. Further protecting the homes of the others around them. Instead of just the people that attended the education programs.”