Emergency Manager's Report to City Council on COVID-19 (September 15, 2020)
Andrew Stevens, CEM - Emergency Manager -Eastside Fire & Rescue
Good evening Mayor, Councilmembers, and City Manager.
Thank you again for allowing me another opportunity to provide a brief situational update on COVID-19 and other current hazards facing the City. We are in the middle of Emergency Preparedness Month so tonight I will also touch on the impending flu season, the impact of wildfire smoke on Sammamish, and the concerns of residents on evacuation routes and preparedness for wildfires in light of the historic wildfires across the western states. It’s important that our city’s resiliency continue to strengthen through the challenges we face and I want the community to know we are paying close attention, are working hard for them, and we hear their concerns.
First, I must start by addressing COVID-19, the pandemic which has taken nearly 200,000 American lives in under seven months. I sadly report that Sammamish has lost another life to COVID. Each life lost is heartbreaking especially for their loved ones. We have also seen 25 new positive cases in the last 14 days. The better news is that the total cases in the city and county appear to be trending downward again. I believe it is because we have taken clear, firm, and measurable action to preserve the wellness of our residents that we have been able to keep our numbers relatively low compared to other cities but, in order for us to maintain the low numbers of the downward trend, we must stay vigilant. The risk of falling prey to compassion fatigue will undoubtedly result in more positive cases and more lives lost.
Just because we occasionally hit low case numbers does not mean we can relax health and safety protocols as a City government or as community members. We must turn the low trends into stable factors in the data which takes continued commitment to social distancing, wearing PPE, limiting outings and social interaction, and so forth. I urge residents to keep others in mind when deciding to downgrade their personal and family safety measures. Thank you to all complying community members who are making the health and safety or themselves and our community a top priority. Your dedication is quite literally a matter of life and death.
This brings me to flu season and weather changes which could both impact the community especially as far as COVID-19 is concerned. If you can get a flu shot, it’s time to book your appointments. While influenza and COVID-19 are distinct illnesses with COVID-19 being far deadlier, having more unpredictable symptoms, and sometimes, a very prolonged recovery; they both create systemic vulnerabilities to humans and our community. Ultimately, we want to avoid outbreaks of both in our community, especially of co-infections. And although inclement weather may drive you inside, we continue to encourage the community to follow the social distancing guidelines set forth by public health experts and refrain from indoor socializing, especially in groups.
Secondly, I’d like to address the smoke surge we’re collectively experiencing throughout most of the state and the west coast of America. These conditions are dangerous. Please heed all recommendations to stay indoors. If you must be outdoors, wearing your masks is helpful in this public health incident as well. Should driving become precarious, use your hazards until you get to a safe spot to pull over. While rain will eventually come and be a reprieve to our forests and wildlife, it will not clean out our air. Atmospheric movement is what is needed to clear our air and that is not expected until later in the week, although the meteorological modeling changes rapidly. Please do not assume the moment you see blue skies that the air is safe. Follow the city and county updates as well as your local news for updates on air quality. If you have heart or pulmonary conditions, please take extra precautions as directed by your physician.
Thirdly, I have heard the concerns of residents about evacuation routes and disaster preparedness and want you to know I’m listening and responding. In addition to the robust emergency preparedness guide and resources hosted on the City website, the Sammamish City Council adopted the FEMA approved King County Regional 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan and accompanying City of Sammamish Jurisdictional Annex. That detailed plan can be reviewed in the July 21st council agenda. It outlines mitigation actions that the City is undertaking, including all hazards transportation planning which involves an evacuation route study and mapping. The few points of egress from our community could be further hindered based on the type of emergency we’re facing. This is especially concerning for the life and safety of evacuees. Know the nearest egress points in each direction from your home!
In the interim of having this study completed, which is yet to begin until the next year’s budget is solidified, I will be creating a preliminary Evacuation Map and Evacuation Preparedness Plan for the community. Essentially with such limited routes, it’s imperative our community is truly prepared to evacuate. Providing a checklist to residents to help prepare them is a crucial part of having effective evacuations in disasters. I will be coordinating with my boss at Eastside Fire and Rescue as well as City staff to have this approved and disseminated to the public as soon as possible on social media, in the email newsletter, and in the mailed newsletter, at minimum.
The dense smoke is also a harsh reminder of the ever-increasing risk of wildfire across the State and even in Western WA. This is one of the reasons why I recently wrote a grant pursuing federal funding to support the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans across all of Eastside Fire & Rescue’s service areas. The plans will be crucial in developing a strategy for how we manage the growing risk of wildfires in the wildland-urban interface of the region and how we educate our residents and implement mitigating actions that reduce risk and future vulnerability.
Thank you all for your time and attention to these important health and safety matters. Your support is critical to my department being effective for our community. I’m now available to answer your questions if you have any.