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Residents Also Ask About EAS in Washington State

WSECC Chair Clay Freinwald says many local EAS plans are outdated

Some residents in the area where wildfires are burning in Washington state are asking why EAS wasn’t used.

The Carleton Complex blaze has consumed 250,000 acres and is 50% contained, reports KING(TV), Seattle, but some residents in Twisp, Wash., are saying they had to give alerting information to each other. “I’ve never seen this absence of information,” states Lucy Reed, according to the account. She said flames surrounded her Carleton home, but she didn’t get a warning to leave.

Multiple sources told KING and Radio World that the EAS wasn’t activated in the area. At an emergency management meeting yesterday, broadcast engineers asked why. Darrell Ruby with Spokane Emergency Management said “we’re really still evaluating the lessons learned and trying to understand why it wasn’t utilized,” according to the account.

The Washington State Emergency Management division helps coordinate EAS information. They said they never got a call from local authorities, likely because the fire moved too fast and they didn’t have time to activate the process, reported KING.

A different local emergency manager told engineers on an SBE Listserv in the area that her group had considered using EAS, but going door-to-door to alert residents was easier. They also didn’t believe EAS was appropriate to alert residents whose primary language isn’t English.

This isn’t the first time EAS was overlooked during a crisis, according to advocates, noting that it wasn’t used during or in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, nor after the Boston Marathon. And it shouldn’t be ignored, according to several broadcast engineers who contacted Radio World.

Longtime EAS advocate Richard Rudman says warnings must be considered by the emergency management community as a core resource. After the Boston incident, Rudman said social media and illuminated road signs and other means were used to get the word out to residents to shelter-in-place. Warnings on cellphones were also issued.

In Washington state, power is out and cellphone availability is either out or spotty in many of the affected areas, according to news reports from the area.

Washington State Emergency Communications Committee Chair Clay Freinwald tells Radio World the geographical makeup of his state makes the emergency alerting situation complex. The state is divided up with 16 different EAS operational areas. Most operational areas contain multiple counties and each county and/or city is likely to have an emergency manager. Each of those managers likely has many reasons for their actions, reasons Freinwald.

Freinwald, and many other engineers involved in EAS, have had a frustrating few days. He has called on his EAS colleagues to tap into the interest in alerting in a constructive way. “When the dust settles, the fires are out and the ashes are cold will be the time to compile all these comments to determine how we can utilize them to improve our public warning systems,” he said on an EAS Listserv for the state.

Many of the EAS plans in various portions of the state are outdated, according to Freinwald, who called on emergency management authorities and others to fix that. “It is my hope that these events will help everyone understand that plans and procedures are what determine whether EAS or [cellphone alerts] or whatever system and what event codes are used, when and how. If these plans lack this detail …Then this is what needs to be rectified.”