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Originally published Friday, September 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnists

Coordinated approach is key to preparing for disasters

We are commemorating the anniversary of two significant national disasters that have occurred within the past five years. Both the terrorist attack...

Special to The Times

WE are commemorating the anniversary of two significant national disasters that have occurred within the past five years. Both the terrorist attack of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina unfolded on our television screens, giving us near-firsthand experience of the destruction. Those images of the destruction and the pain inflicted on people's psyches and bodies are riveted in our minds.

As emergency managers, our mission is to continually work within our local and regional communities to ensure that when it is our turn to be in the national and international news because of a local disaster, we are as prepared as we can be for these events.

Therefore, we believe in what is called an all-hazards approach to disaster preparedness; one that encompasses natural, technological and human-caused disasters (such as terrorism).

We cannot say that we will be surprised when disasters do strike us. Our worst-case scenarios include flu pandemic, earthquakes from multiple fault zones, volcanic eruption from Mount Rainier and, yes, terrorism. It would be foolish and a waste of resources to concentrate on being prepared for only one of these hazards.

Both Katrina and the 9/11 attack have reaffirmed that the regional approach that we have been taking in the Greater Seattle area is the right path. Both of these national disasters, one that impacted point targets and the other that cut a huge swath through the Gulf Coast, proved that we cannot stand alone when disaster strikes. It will take "coalition teamwork" that includes not just governments, but also the private and nonprofit sectors, in order for us to survive and thrive in the wake of a catastrophe.

It also means that individuals and families will have to do their part by becoming prepared for disasters and maintaining a level of preparedness that reflects the significant hazards this region faces.

The nationwide plan review that was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security placed the city of Seattle and King County in the top 10 urban areas in the country for our efforts in planning for disasters.

However, our planning will never really be done, since we continue to refine our plans after every exercise and event.

There are still more preparedness efforts needed. Our examination of the Katrina fiasco revealed several areas that we have determined need immediate attention. Accordingly, we and our urban partners are focusing our efforts on evacuation (or the movement of people and supplies within a damaged area), debris-management planning and outreach work with the multiple, vulnerable populations here in the metropolitan Seattle area.

However, we realize that government disaster preparedness is just one area of need.

If the rest of the regional community, business sector, nonprofits, individual citizens and families are not doing their part, we can never become truly ready for our Katrina-sized event — such as an earthquake along the Seattle fault or Cascadia subduction zone.

Make no bones about it: A rupture of the Seattle fault will challenge every fiber of our collective body. The potential loss of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to an earthquake is a prime example of the level of destruction that can happen, though it is not the only facility in our infrastructure that is at risk. Pipelines will rupture, seawalls may collapse, older homes will be shifted off their foundations and unreinforced masonry buildings may collapse or be significantly damaged.

So now is the time to prepare. Our message that individuals and families be prepared to manage alone for a minimum of three days cannot be overemphasized. In reality, we know that it could take the federal government up to seven days to move significant resources to our area to assist us in responding to and recovering from a catastrophic disaster.

Together, King County and the city of Seattle realize that our strength comes not from being a large city or a big county.

Our disaster resilience is best enhanced by working together as partners and with others to achieve a safer regional community.

Barb Graff is the director of the city of Seattle's Office of Emergency Management. Eric Holdeman is director of the King County Office of Emergency Management.

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