November 27, 2015

Windstorm – The Next Step

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:28 am

2015WindstormHead1Downed trees were a very common sight in Coeur d’Alene after the prolonged intense winds on November 17.   Some effects remain.  Even today a few homes are still without power in our region.   The outline of fallen trees still imprint home and car roofs.  And many of those home’s roofs still intact show the paper underlayment of shingles blown to the ground.

So what’s next?  Get ready for the next one.

Emergency response planning and execution is intended to be a continuing process.  It typically follows this fairly fluid cycle:

EMERGENCY RESPONSEThis oversimplified cycle depicts something that is horrifically unrealistic, namely that there will not be another emergency until after the just-ended emergency has gone through the complete response cycle.   In our case, until everything is fixed, there won’t be any more strong winds.  Or a major fire.  Or an ice storm.  Or a haz-mat incident that shuts down US 95 at Appleway.

So while we take a moment to catch our collective breaths, meaning some personally normal level of living has been reestablished, the next essential step will be to assess what we did right and what we can do to be better prepared for the next major emergency.  Never mind that we don’t know what that will be, when and where it will occur, and what its intensity and duration will be.

“We” certainly refers to us individually, personally.  But it also refers to those whom we have elected and appointed to perform continuity of operations and continuity of government during a major emergency.

OpenCdA promises this won’t be another long-winded treatise with references to sections of laws that establish the federal and state government’s take-a-number, get-in-line pecking order for government funds.

In fact, we’re not even going to delve too deeply into Kootenai County’s own contribution to 21st century bureaucracy.  If you’re interested, we’d suggest you spend a few minutes (only a few) skimming the 2-volume, 780 page Kootenai County Hazard Mitigation Plan.  Our view is that there is a small amount of useful personal information in them, but they do present a broad view of the County’s emergency planning.

Your time will probably be better spent looking at the personally applicable portions of the 333-page Kootenai County Emergency Operations Plan and the 144-page Kootenai County Evacuation and Reception Plan.  Collectively, these two plans will give you a clearer picture of what is supposed to happen in our area before, during, and after an emergency.  These plans also give you an idea of exactly who is responsible for doing what.

Most of these strategic county plans were coordinated by the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management (OEM).  The OEM is headed by a Director.  Here is the current position description for the Kootenai County OEM Director.

As the most current Kootenai County organizational chart shows, the OEM Director reports directly to the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners.   The County’s strategic disaster plans assign the ultimate authority for some emergency decisions to the Board of Commissioners.

Obviously each of us is completely responsible for our personal and family preparedness.  We are also responsible for deciding for ourselves how much local and state governmental response is appropriate and how much was effective during the past emergency.

The November 17, 2015, windstorm that clobbered our region was a serious emergency.  Its severity should not be minimized.  Our suggestion is that each OpenCdA reader make your own evaluation of the effectiveness of your state, county, city, and tribal governments’ planning and execution during that emergency.  Then communicate your constructive observations and suggestions to your elected officials.   They need our input to better prepare for the next disaster.


  1. I know that some our city council members still read and participate on this blog, so I will be happy to give you my impressions of the emergency management during our horrific windstorm.
    First of all, I was one of the lucky ones, a little ruffled, I was the following morning. However, I survived, thanks mainly to the only real emergency management I encountered on my way home in the dark of the night, praying that nobody would hit me at the intersections.

    The drunk guy.

    It was the drunk guy, who was stopping anyone who turned off of Government Way into our park in the miserable winds and rain, waiving us all so we would not hit the tree, or I might not have weathered this unnatural weather event so well. I very well could have hit the fallen trees and there were plenty of them. No power to that area for 5 days … right off Government Way. We were lucky; our dead end was not affected.

    Not knowing what to do, and not wanting to hang out with the obviously intoxicated guy of which he verbally acknowledged, but very dedicated in helping prevent an accident, as I saw him turn away at least 3 cars, I decided to brave it once in again in search of lights. I don’t carry a cell phone.

    Thank you CDA Inn, you were in business and fortunately, the nightly special was just for me as I made my way inside, extremely wet and somewhat frazzled. In making a longer story, shorter, but with the major highlights of my experience, I will now provide you with my impression.

    We need more drunk guys participating in the mix of an emergency, because that was my only warning. This man would have been great in an intersection, too. I went through three major intersections, with no traffic control during our rush hour while my car shook. Heck, we should have put him on the news or Emergency Management could hire him. At least he did something constructive, because, I know of no one else who provided warnings.

    “Shelter in Place” – I guess that warning is only good for Spokane.

    In my opinion, we had no emergency management, except the drunk guy, bless his heart … whoever he was.

    Comment by Stebbijo — November 27, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

  2. Stebbijo,

    Thanks for including your experiences.

    If you recall, where were you getting most of your information about the incident? Clearly you saw the power was out as you were returning home Tuesday night, but after that, where did you turn to get timely, reliable information about the emergency? What source(s) of information impressed you the most and the least?

    I gather from what you said that traffic lights, intersection control, was out in your area. Was anyone (police, fire, etc.) trying to direct traffic at busy intersections? Based on your experience, what could have been done before and during the emergency to make it safer and more tolerable for everyone? We are far more likely to experience power outages than tornados, so what needs to be done by the City before the next outage hits us?

    If we recognize that emergencies are going to happen, what do we as citizens need to tell the City (and County and State) that they may not already know? Is there anything that they could reasonably have done to make the emergency safer and more tolerable once it had begun?

    Comment by Bill — November 27, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

  3. I remember hearing that we might be expecting severe winds, but nothing that really concerned or alarmed me. This is Idaho, not the Midwest. I read on the internet, the schools were closing and that was all. That did not concern me either, because it would have been a reasonable precaution, but I was still not concerned, because the news in our area was not pressing. Until, I got outside, I had no idea and as I ventured home, I became very concerned and scared. The car was shaking, that does not happen in North Idaho due to winds. But, I have survived ugly tornado aftermaths in Tulsa, OK and flash floods, so I just kept keepin’ on.

    No traffic control at any of the intersections, my main news source was on TV in the hotel room. It was broadcasting the “Shelter in Place” warning, KREM went down and then it was KXLY basically with exclusive coverage for Spokane … no coverage on Coeurdalene, only small blurbs later about blow down in Post Falls and not anything that appeared to be horrific, no warning to stay in place. We really did not receive any warnings here, at least I did not. Many could not watch them anyway, the power was out in so many places. On my second attempt to get out and drive to warn my husband, a patrol car was parked at one of the intersections, Appleway and Hiway 95, probably for monitoring, but much much later into the event. The landlines went down for a short time at the INN as I was able to get my husband on the phone to warn him and then … dead. No calls went thru to the front desk for a short period. One lady’s cell phone, I came across would not work, either. BUT, the lights were still on at the hotel. Go figure, it was the Hagadone Corporation. However, they were very accommodating and when I was able to return home much later into the middle of the night, they only charged me 1/2 price as I barely used the room and at the Manager’s Special rate. I am glad they were there. The Avista crew was also there, eating and waiting for it to become safe enough to get out and brave the mess. People were coming in off the hiway trying to get rooms and employees were staying. All the business’ along Hiway 95 North were dark for a period of time. I know, I drove it to get a message to my husband because the phones went down. I figured I would be safer in his parking lot if anything. It was so dark, you had to know where you going or you were SOL. When I arrived, the lights miraculously turned on. LOL The drive back home was much easier.

    I don’t know how a “Shelter in Place” warning needs to be communicated here in this area and/or if they even have such a procedure in place. Some people do not get to watch TV, especially if they are at work or do not have access. Most could not watch it anyway, there was no power. I believe, that is what needs to be put into place. I know the event was not for an extremely long time, but the damage and danger of the situation was massive. Nobody knew how bad it was until they got out the door. If the power went down at your work, you would just stay or voluntarily go, I suppose. But, I don’t think we had an official warning, here – only the Spokane area. If anyone knew it was coming, but did not have a procedure in place, then I get it. If they had a procedure in place, it did not work. This really was a “fend for yourself” emergency event. The American Red Cross set up for a short time … but who knew they were there?

    Some sort of phone tree, I would think might be set up to contact all major business’ in the area and onto neighborhoods once the schools are notified to close for this area. If you close the schools because of an imminent emergency, you close/warn everything/everybody not just the chosen few. If you decide to stay open, you give employees ect the choice/option to voluntarily leave or “shelter in place” until the threat subsides.

    How did it affect you?

    Comment by Stebbijo — November 27, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

  4. I found this article, the first paragraph comments about “authorities” but fails to mention who they are. So, if one knew who the authorities are, examination of the process at that point might be a start to initiate a better process and/or look at how it failed.

    Comment by Stebbijo — November 27, 2015 @ 9:24 pm

  5. Stebbijo,

    Thank you for the very detailed response.

    The only time I saw the “shelter in place” warning was an Emergency Alert System warning shortly after the 5 p.m. television news began. A few minutes later, we lost KEC power. We have very small but effective LED flashlights with fresh batteries in every room in the house, and we also have two battery-powered fluorescent tube lanterns (camping style) in the kitchen.

    We also have some battery-powered AM/FM portable radios with fresh batteries upstairs and downstairs. I was extremely surprised and equally disappointed that our local AM radio station, KVNI, hadn’t gone to continuous coverage (or, seemingly, any coverage at all) of the local emergency.

    Having moved here from earthquake country, southern California, we were prepared both psychologically and operationally to go for ten days without power if necessary. Fortunately, our power was restored in about seven hours, and it only flickered once after that.

    Comment by Bill — November 28, 2015 @ 7:06 am

  6. Kootenai County is responsible for the emergency management of the entire area. They can supposedly pull people and equipment from one area to another area as needed. This of course did not happen and cities such as CDA found themselves over extended while other areas under used.
    Incident command systems or simply ICS (the primary model developed in Calif. I might add) is the basis for most emergency or disaster preparedness, the actual name of command systems has changed with different entities wanting ownership they all have one thing in common, they must be continually tested, trained on, and evolved, something they county has apparently failed to do.

    Comment by Mike Teague — November 28, 2015 @ 11:24 am

  7. Mike,

    The Kootenai County Emergency Operations Plan is based on the premise that the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System will be used as the incident management system for all levels of response. Accordingly, all appropriate personnel are supposed to be trained on the principles of the NIMS and the ICS and integrate those principles into planning, response, recovery, and mitigation operations. (At least that’s what the EOP says on pages 3-4.)

    I’m especially interested in the details of if, when, and how the Emergency Operations Center was activated and how well it functioned as intended. That’s all described in the EOP Annex KC-ESF #5.

    You’re absolutely right about the need for regular training on realisitic emergencies by all the agencies expected to be involved. I know that all the hospitals in Los Angeles were required to have regular realistic training exercises; our office participated in some of them. They were taken very seriously, and that was reflected in the after-action debriefings and followups. One of the many important features of serious training is that the participants develop confidence in all the other players. Increased confidence results in increased competence and cooperation.

    Comment by Bill — November 28, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

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