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. (more…)

December 15, 2015

Tonight’s Assessment of Windstorm-2015

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 8:11 am

KVNIThe meeting agenda posted online last Friday for the Tuesday, December 15 Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting includes this presentation:  “Windstorm Update – Police Chief White and Fire Chief Gabriel.”

Monday’s Coeur d’Alene Press skewspaper article headlined Police chief to speak on wind storm response suggests that unlike the usual self-congratulation Coeur d’Alene officials like to heap upon themselves, tonight’s comments from two competent and professional public safety leaders will offer objective evaluation and constructive recommendations for improving our community’s responses in an emergency.

We hope that Mayor Widmyer and the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners watch and listen.  Intently and humbly. (more…)

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. (more…)

August 6, 2018

Almost Three Years Late …

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:34 am


Remember Windstorm 2015 that hit our area on November 17, 2015?

Apparently the Coeur d’Alene Press finally got around to giving it some thought for its August 5, 2018, relevant but long overdue editorial entitled Fires Ignite One Thumbs-Up — And One Down.

In my OpenCdA post entitled Our Grade?  Needs Improvement on December 7, 2015, I tried to be restrained in my criticism of the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and its Director, Sandy von Behren, Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger, and the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners.  ‘Unprepared’ and ‘indecisive’ would have been the kindest terms I could have used for their collective professional failures in performing their official duties regarding informing the public.

Sunday’s skewspaper editorial finally acknowledged one of Windstorm 2015’s lessons that should have been learned long ago:  Kootenai County does not have a coordinated method of disseminating timely, accurate, and complete information to all the residents of Kootenai County.

The County thinks it does and tells the public it does on its website.  It doesn’t.

But what about Alert!Kootenai, the Kootenai County Emergency Alert Program?   How many of you who signed up for this received any message about the fires near Dirtstrip International Airport that were the basis for Sunday’s Press editorial?  I didn’t.

Sunday’s Press editorial included this statement:

This complaint isn’t just from a newspaper charged with keeping citizens informed; media throughout the region are poised to get important information to the public promptly and accurately.

The last portion of that statement, “…; media throughout the region are poised to get important information to the public promptly and accurately,” needs further discussion. (more…)

October 22, 2016

Turn Your Radio On?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 4:27 pm

2015WindstormHead1Remember Windstorm 2015?  It was just a little less than a year ago.

One of the major concerns expressed by officials and citizens in Windstorm 2015’s aftermath was the complete inadequacy of timely, consistent, verified information being put out by the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management before, during, and even after the event.

If this recent blurb on the City of Coeur d’Alene’s website is any indication, little has changed for the better.  Apparently the City has decided that “social media” will be the method of choice for reaching out to the public.

So, what’s wrong with “social media?”

  • They are internet dependent.  Fortunately the internet is absolutely reliable.  Nothing ever could happen to it, right?  Except this and this.
  • It requires users to have expensive internet devices, service, and access.  What about people who do not have smart phones or other internet-capable portable devices?  And what about people who have the devices but they use rechargeable but not replaceable batteries? What do they do when the electricity goes out for days and their whizbang communications device goes dead?  A discharged battery that cannot be replaced or recharged is useless for emergency telephone communications as well as for receiving timely, verified information from officials on “social media.”
  • Which “social medium” will be the official source of official information?  We don’t know, because neither the City nor the County have told us.  Will it be FaceRash, Snappity-Doo-Dah, Twitterpation?
  • If the “social media” allow public input, each medium must be monitored continuously by EOC personnel.  People will use these media to report information that would more appropriately be called in to a trained call-taker at 9-1-1.

Our preceding Windstorm 2015 posts advocated the County and City working with one or more terrestrial commercial broadcast AM and FM radio stations to allow the Kootenai County Emergency Operations Center to provide an audio feed to the station(s).

The type of feed we envisioned would provide short duration, as-warranted or several times per hour reports at regular invervals.  They would be similar to traffic reports currently broadcast.  Here’s an audio example recorded January 4, 2016.  It was aired by KXLY radio.  The on-air announcer, Bob Lutz, works for Metro Traffic which provides traffic report audio feeds to several stations.

Why use old-fashioned radio?

  • It is not internet dependent.
  • Some radio stations in our area include nearly all of Kootenai County in their primary coverage area.
  • Radio stations’ studios and transmitter sites are designed to operate during emergencies, even long-term power outages.  They have been used for decades to deliver timely, essential information to many people.  Radio is reliable, and it has proven itself.
  • A battery-powered portable AM/FM radio receiver costs less than $25.  The commonly used, inexpensive alkaline batteries have a shelf-life of ten years, so spares can easily be stored with other emergency supplies.
  • Most cars, pickups, trucks, and motor homes come with AM/FM radios.  Even visitors in the area and people passing through would have access to emergency information.  No keyboard operations required while driving in adverse conditions.
  • In many emergencies (think Firestorm, Mt. St. Helens eruption, Ice Storm) radio stations already interrupt regular programming to provide information from the National Weather Service and other emergency entities.  They already have a plan and could work with the Kootenai County OEM to plan and prepare in advance.
  • The OEM/EOC has absolute control over the timing and completeness of the information being disseminated through its audio feed to its radio partners.  It can assure that only timely, accurate information is sent on its feed.
  • The announcer in the EOC needs only two skills:  Be able to read copy clearly and be able to tell time.  Others in the EOC need to be able to write the clear, succinct, accurate copy for the on-air announcer to read.

What would the OEM/EOC have to do?

  • Commit to using terrestrial commercial AM and FM stations (if the stations are willing) as the primary method of delivering emergency information to the public.
  • Identify radio stations with adequate area coverage around the clock.   Some radio stations, mainly AM stations,  reduce power or change their antenna pattern at night to reduce interference with other stations.  Contact the station management to dicsuss the idea.
  • Assuming suitable stations agree to participate, work with their personnel to establish the technical links from the EOC to the stations.  It’s not as complicated as it might seem.  It will cost some money, though.
  • Train OEM/EOC persons to gather the information from others in the EOC, then write and read the copy.

In an emergency, getting timely, verified accurate, complete information out to the public is essential.  Using commercial AM and FM terrestrial radio achieves that.  If people know where to tune in an emergency, and if they tune there and hear what they need to hear, they are less likely to tie up emergency phone numbers such as 9-1-1 asking for information.  They are also less likely to use “social media” to report emergency information that should be called in to 9-1-1 where trained call-takers can process it more quickly and accurately and route it to appropriate responders.

September 8, 2016

So … Did You Get the Message?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 3:00 pm


After Windstorm 2015, the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management was justifiably criticized for its failure to timely and uniformly notify county residents of relevant storm-related information.  One county notification system, HipLink, was supposed to provide text messages via landline and cell phone to subscribers.

HipLink didn’t work, but our whizbang Office of Emergency Management in conjunction with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said they’d fix it.  We didn’t hold our breath.

According to this Coeur d’Alene Press skews paper article online dated September 4, 2016, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office was supposed to send a test message of the “fixed” text and cell phone messaging system.

Since Windstorm 2015 we have subscribed to the County’s HipLink notification and the City’s NIXLE notification system.

We’re curious.  Did anyone receive the Wednesday 10 a.m. test message promised by the Sheriff’s Office?

We’ve received no test messages from either system.  Ever.

January 9, 2016

Kootenai County Emergencies Report

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:26 am

KCOEM LogoOn January 4, 2016, the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners heard an after-action report from Sandy von Behren,  Director of the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management.   As itemized in the meeting agenda, her report discussed several emergencies that affected some or all of Kootenai County during 2015.

OpenCdA urges its readers to take about an hour and listen to the audio recording of her presentation and the responses from the County Commissioners.  (After clicking on the hyperlink, click on the caption 01-04-2016 Office of Emergency Management Update – cs, then click the Open O button.)  Readers may also want to review some or all of our previous posts on Windstorm 2015.

January 2, 2016

Radio? Old Fashioned, But Effective

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:08 am

CD_radioCommercial broadcast radio may be old fashioned, but it is still an effective way to communicate timely, accurate information to many people in an emergency.

Widespread power outages lasting from hours to days were a  significant challenge resulting from the November 17, 2015, region-wide windstorm.   We doubt that Avista Utilities, Kootenai Electric Cooperative, Northern Lights Electric Cooperative, and Inland Power & Light would voice much disagreement.  Neither would their customers.

The event, Windstorm 2015, was a civil emergency which required multijurisdictional, interagency response.

At the Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting on December 15, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White clearly identified a critical challenge faced by emergency services:  In an emergency, the emergency services need to be able to communicate timely, accurate information to the people affected.  Coeur d’Alene Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel’s and Chief White’s comments can be viewed and heard here beginning at time mark 0:12:07.  Chief White’s comments about the identified need to communicate information better to the public begins at time mark 0:17:47.

Councilman Dan Gookin asked the two Chiefs if they had considered using local commercial radio broadcasting stations to deliver timely, accurate, and regular information to all of Kootenai County.  The Chiefs indicated they had not but they would certainly be willing to explore it.

OpenCdA appreciates both Councilman Gookin’s question and the Chiefs’ response.  OpenCdA thinks that to communicate timely, verified information in an emergency affecting many people in a larger geographical area, commercial broadcast radio is more than just viable — it is superior.   (more…)

December 12, 2015

Being Ready…

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 8:41 am

ReadyWithin the past 30 days both our region and the nation have experienced events that should cause each of us to ask “Am I ready?”

On November 17, 2015, our region was hammered by a windstorm that did millions of dollars in damages and left well over 100,000 people without power, some for over a week.  It was a natural disaster and a civil emergency.

Then on December 2, 2015, a training session and luncheon of county employees in San Bernardino, California, was attacked by two active shooters who were at least influenced if not controlled by ISIS.  When the shooting at San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center finally stopped, there were 14 attendees dead and 22 wounded.   About four hours later, the two shooters were killed after firing shots and throwing pipe bombs from their vehicle at pursuing law enforcement officers.  That, too, was a civil emergency.

In both instances, some people were ready, some were not. (more…)

December 7, 2015

Our Grade? “Needs Improvement”

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 11:46 am

2015WindstormHead1According to the December 5, 2015, Coeur d’Alene Press skewspaper article headlined Storm emergency center analyzed, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Sandy Von Behren and Kootenai County Commissoner Dan Green gave the OEM’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) a “B” grade for its performance during the November 17, 2015, windstorm.

Based on the information in the Press article, OpenCdA thinks the letter grade “B”  is meaningless.  The best we can do is suggest a narrative grade of “Needs Improvement.”  (more…)

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