Tacoma disaster preparation includes multimillon-dollar contingency contracts

Money to be spent only if city resources taxed

Tacoma News TribuneJune 2, 2014 

When the mountain roars, the ground heaves or the skies open, Tacoma officials say contracts will be in place to help the city recover.

Those who live in the Pacific Northwest know the region is vulnerable to natural disasters. Floods like the one that struck Lewis County seven years ago put Interstate 5 and much of the area under several feet of water. The Cascadia earthquake in 1700, which caused huge tsunamis and widespread destruction, also serves as a sober reminder of the destructive force of the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, upon which coastal Washington sits.

And Mount Rainier, the beautiful, glacier-capped volcano to the southwest, poses the danger of volcanic mudflows, called lahars, even this far away (read a story by reporter Kari Plog on the lessons Pierce County officials learned from a destructive lahar in South America).

Any one of these disasters could overwhelm any city or county government. That’s why the city of Tacoma is locking in multimillion dollar contracts with debris removal and disaster management experts to have a workforce on standby, just in case.

The city has signed such contracts before, said Mike Slevin, Tacoma’s director of environmental services. But after Hurricane Katrina, the rules to receive money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency changed.

The City Council approved a $9.4 million debris-removal contract in December. Another $3.5 million disaster management contract is on Tuesday’s agenda. Money would only be spent in the event of a large natural disaster, where the city would have most of its expenses reimbursed by FEMA.

“We hope to never use it,” Slevin said.

He said the assumption is, if there is a large enough disaster to wipe away much of the city of Tacoma’s equipment, or is so big as to overwhelm local responders, these companies could bring their equipment and expertise to Tacoma.

For such a huge event, the city just won’t have the ability to tackle them, said Gary Kato, solid waste division manager — and our neighbors might not be able to us help, either.

“If it’s an area wide (disaster), everybody’s pretty taxed,” Kato said. “…We have some equipment, but we would be cleaning off one or two streets when the whole city needs to be cleared.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

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