Clatsop County lags in disaster planning


Clatsop County is one of two in Oregon with no disaster recovery plan registered with the federal government. But it may be among those most in need of one.

The state has been offering to help with one for five years. As the county crawls out from under its worst storm in 25 years, some wonder how a county at risk for forest fires, damaging winds, flooding, tsunamis and earthquakes can be without a plan.

The county manager says it's the sheriff's problem. The sheriff says he's been working on it for years.

Emergency Operations Coordinator Gene Strong, hired for only half time, is preparing a plan to deal with disasters as they happen. And Astoria city officials want to register a plan of their own with the federal government but were told it must be a part of a countywide plan.

City leaders hint that the county has failed to show leadership on the mitigation plan.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will contribute to programs for disaster prevention but communities and agencies first must register the plans with FEMA.

In 2002, FEMA required state and local government to establish mitigation plans that deal with post-disaster emergency operations and risk reduction.

Lincoln County is the only other in Oregon with no plan on file with FEMA.

Astoria City Manager Paul Benoit said he didn't know of the need for the plans until a landslide last year.

Dennis Sigrist, an Oregon Military Department hazard mitigation officer, said Oregon began working with counties in 2002, but could only encourage, not require, such plans by noting risk and the benefits of federal assistance.

"Mitigation planning is voluntary," Sigrist said. "The state can provide tools and resources. In the end, the community has to choose whether it wants to develop a plan."

Yumei Wang, a geotechnical engineer and hazards team leader at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, agreed.

"We have 36 counties in the state, and all of them are pretty far along," she said. "I think Lincoln County and Clatsop are being kind of slow, and the state has been offering assistance to both.

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