December 28, 2015

Windstorm 2015 – CdA’s Report

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 3:37 pm

KEC 11-17-15editOpenCdA hopes that everyone who has either Time Warner Cable or internet access watched the Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting on Tuesday,  December 15th.  Specifically, we hope that everyone paid very close attention to the Windstorm 2015 after-action report to the Council by Coeur d’Alene Fire Chief Gabriel and Police Chief White.

If you missed it, the replay is available here on the City’s website.  The Chiefs’ wrapup begins at 0:12:07 and concludes at 0:31:52.

We’ve watched it twice and learned something new each time.

While the storm did not catch the City by surprise, it was a little bit more than the City had expected.   Maybe, but it appears to us that the City’s departments were prepared to handle more than just “a little bit more.”  For that, the City’s departments deserve both recognition and praise.  Being that ready is more than just luck; it is the essence of preparedness.

The Fire Department started getting storm-related calls for service at 1:47 p.m.  The Streets Department began getting calls for service to deal with downed trees at about 4:15 p.m.  The Fire, Police, and Streets Departments worked closely and cooperatively to triage various emergency responses to ensure the public’s safety by keeping streets as passable as possible for emergency apparatus and private vehicular traffic.  Power outages shut down traffic control signals and street lights, and downed trees made some areas inaccessible for EMS vehicles so it became necessary for Police SUVs to transport some people to hospitals.  Firefighters in brush trucks with chain saws worked closely with Street Department crews to clear fallen trees from roads, cars, and buildings.

From the Council meeting we now know that it was Coeur d’Alene Chief’s White and Gabriel who had to light a fire under the Kootenai County’s Board of Commissioners and its action office, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), to activate the Kootenai County Emergency Operations Center.  We were aware of that before and offered our opinions on that in earlier OpenCdA posts, particularly our December 7th post entitled Our Grade?  “Needs Improvement.”

OpenCdA was very impressed to hear that even as the debris from the November 17th Windstorm 1 was still being  cleared and electricity was still being restored, the Coeur d’Alene police and fire chiefs, other department heads,  and presumably others in City government started looking ahead to a forecast Windstorm 2.  They agreed that the City would open its own coordination center for Windstorm 2 predicted to happen December 8-9.  To the City’s credit, it invited a representative from the County OEM to participate.  Even though Windstorm 2 wasn’t nearly as severe, the City used it as an opportunity to test some of the lessons learned from Windstorm 1.  Aggressive, timely planning for the next emergency regardless of what exact form it may take is a sure sign of an emergency preparedness mindset. Spokane did it.  Coeur d’Alene did it.  Kootenai County, well, “Needs Improvement.”

During his part of the Tuesday night presentation, Chief White very clearly stated that there needs to be  improvements made in getting information out to the public.   We agree, and we also suggest that the importance of public awareness and public information has been severely underestimated and operationally neglected by the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners and the Director of the OEM.  In a forthcoming OpenCdA post, we will touch on some of the benefits and limitations of both old and new communications technology in public awareness and emergency information dissemination.

In contrast with the City of Coeur d’Alene’s timely self-evaluation and adaptation …

On January 6, 2016, the Kootenai County OEM will host its after-action meeting for the November 17th Windstorm 1 event.  The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the EOC support during the Windstorm event on November 17th – 20th and to define strengths and areas of improvement throughout the event.

We suspect the January 6th OEM after-action meeting may not be a public meeting.   Our suspicion is based on the list of those whose attendance is “required” versus those whose attendance is “optional.”  We note with considerable disappointment that the “optional” attendees are Kootenai County Commissioners Green, Eberlein, and Stewart.  It seems to us that since the OEM is a subordinate component of the Board of County Commissioners, all the Commissioners should be present.  We hope their attendance is not listed as “optional” to expressly circumvent Idaho’s Open Meetings Law.

We think it would be wise for the Kootenai County OEM to have two or more public meetings — sooner rather than later — to discuss what went wrong, what went right, and what changes have been made in countywide coordination and cooperation.

Because the November 17th windstorm was not a mass casualty or mass fatality event like this past weekend’s tornadoes in the Midwest, we are concerned the Board of Commissioners and OEM will be content to simply make some superficial cosmetic changes and move on.   We also note that following  Windstorm 1 and the less severe Windstorm 2, our region has experienced an unusually persistent snowfall that also resulted in widespread power outages.   Avista Utilities and Kootenai Electric Cooperative have been providing their customers and the general public with informative, educational,  timely updates using all the media available to them.  We think Kootenai County might learn by watching and listening to them.

We suggest the Board of County Commissioners, all of them, get some readily available training to help them understand exactly what the Board’s specific role in emergency preparedness as prescribed in federal and state law.   That training is also essential if the Board expects to be able to properly and fairly evaluate the performance of the Director of the Office of Emergency Management.

Our view is that Kootenai County has done an unsatisfactory job of communicating with the public when it comes to pre-incident public awareness and intraincident public information about civil emergencies.  The solution to that problem will not be to simply hire another washed up skewspaper reporter or public safety agency retiree to write occasional fluff pieces and then email them out in hopes local media will pick them up.  Neither will it be to hire yet another PR firm like the one which gave Coeur d’Alene “ignite cda”.

Public awareness programs need to be systematic and ongoing.  They inform and educate people so we can prepare ourselves to come through civil emergencies regardless of their manner and severity.

Public information programs give us specific, timely information to help us deal with those emergencies once they are imminent,  then underway, and finally after they are over.

Kootenai County needs to put the “public” back in public awareness and public information.









  1. I wonder why the emergency assessment meeting scheduled for Jan. 6th was cancelled. Was this meeting closed to the public. Will the meeting be rescheduled?

    Comment by Susie Snedaker — January 6, 2016 @ 8:38 am

  2. Susie,

    I had not heard the meeting set for this afternoon had been canceled. I don’t believe it was ever intended or even required to be open to the public, so it would not have appeared on the BOCC’s open meeting calendar or agenda list. I don’t know if the invited participants to the meeting are a public agency as that is defined in I.C. § 74-202. Even if it is a public agency, all that is required to satisfy the notice requirement is “…posting such notices and agendas in a prominent place at the principal office of the public agency, or if no such office exists, at the building where the meeting is to be held.”

    Comment by Bill — January 6, 2016 @ 8:56 am

  3. Oops! Wrong date. I was thinking of the Monday meeting. The BOCC should have assembled all first responding agencies to a review meeting the week after the November emergency storm. There is no reason why Kootenai County delayed that meeting. By the way, was the public included or excluded in that Monday meeting?

    Comment by Susie Snedaker — January 6, 2016 @ 9:21 am

  4. Susie,

    Since it was listed on the public meeting calendar, I assume it was open to the public. Being open to the public and the public’s being reasonably and timely informed of the notice are two different matters however. I have to assume that the meeting was properly noticed as outlined in I.C. 74-204, but even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered since the AG’s office and the Idaho Legislature gutted the notice and agenda requirements of the Open Meeting Law in 2009.

    Comment by Bill — January 6, 2016 @ 9:35 am

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