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Keeping communities safe: Snohomish County planning for disaster

Updated Hazard Mitigation Plan identifies prevention projects as county grows, changes

It is a proven strategy for encouraging a safer, smarter and more resilient Snohomish County.

It’s also an investment in saving lives and money.

Every five years, emergency planners around the county take stock of the range of hazards that can put people and property at risk here. The data and maps they assemble form the backbone of the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. The plan helps identify the community’s options for minimizing damage and reducing harm when facing flooding, severe weather, earthquakes, landslides and many other challenges.

“Hazard mitigation isn’t glamorous but it is effective,” said Jason Biermann, the county’s emergency management director. “We know from disasters around the country that this work can save homes, businesses, and lives.”

It also makes good financial sense. Federal studies have shown that communities, on average, avoid spending $6 for every $1 directed toward mitigating hazards.

Snohomish County hazards – Are you ready?

Updating the 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan is a necessary step in keeping the community eligible for federal disaster-assistance dollars. The plan was last revised in 2015. A team of representatives from around the community, including area cities and tribal governments, is now working to have an update ready for adoption by mid-September. Stay tuned in the months ahead for details on opportunities to review the work and offer input.

The 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan will call attention to risks posed by natural phenomenon, from the Glacier Peak volcano located deep in the county’s wild east side to evidence of past tsunami events along the Puget Sound shoreline. Unlike past years, the plan also will explore the community’s exposure to technological and human-caused hazards, including chemical spills, cybersecurity threats and active assailants in places where people gather.

Keeping an eye on change

The plan’s broader focus recognizes the changes to the community in recent years, not only linked to digital technology that now pervades every aspect of public and private life, but also the area’s booming population. More than 800,000 people now call the county home, with most living in the urbanizing western third. The county is expected to remain one of Washington’s fastest-growing places. Hazard mitigation planning is a part of preparing for those new arrivals.

Options for reducing harm

Natural, technological, and human-caused disasters can cause injury, death, and property damage. They may have lasting impact on the economy, particularly when recovery efforts divert funding and attention away from other priorities. But planning also can identify projects that can help protect people, homes and businesses, such as stabilizing slopes that are prone to landslide or using building codes to promote construction that holds up better during earthquakes.

Protecting people and property

The plan also enables Snohomish County and its planning partners to maintain eligibility for disaster-related federal grant assistance, in accordance with the federal Disaster Mitigation Act (2000). In addition, the plan helps meet requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System. Under that program, flood insurance premium rates can be discounted to reward activities aimed at reducing flood damage and encouraging comprehensive floodplain management.

Learn more about Snohomish County’s 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan update online here.