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Snow survivors: 974 still lack power in Federal Way

A scene along 1st Avenue South near the Cove Apartments on Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Federal Way. Photo courtesy of Debby Coleman. - Courtesy of Debby Coleman
A scene along 1st Avenue South near the Cove Apartments on Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Federal Way. Photo courtesy of Debby Coleman.
— image credit: Courtesy of Debby Coleman

Puget Sound Energy reports that 974 customers in Federal Way still had no power as of Wednesday afternoon — compared to a peak of nearly 30,000 in the city last week. PSE estimates that Federal Way customers will have their power restored by Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Overall, more than 250,000 people lost power as snow and ice coated the region last Wednesday and Thursday. Federal Way experienced up to 5.5 inches of snow, which was more than Seattle saw (about 2 inches), but less than the Olympia area, which was hit by more than 12 inches of snow. The weight of the snow, and subsequent ice from freezing rain, caused tree limbs to snap and power lines to collapse.

The recent weather crisis reminded residents of the 2006 windstorms that knocked out power across the region. Puget Sound Energy estimated 700,000 customers lost power during that storm.

In fact, the 2006 storm is credited for increasing emergency preparedness in Federal Way over the past six years. One of the more visible signs could be seen at the city's intersections. Battery backup systems were installed to keep traffic lights at 37 intersections up and running during mass power outages. This freed up police resources so that officers could assist elsewhere, rather than directing traffic at those intersections around the clock, as in 2006.

Ray Gross, the city's emergency management specialist, fostered communication among public entities such as South King Fire and Rescue and Federal Way police.

This communication led to better coordination and reduced duplication of efforts while assisting during the storms. Thanks to previous training, along with an attitude of "getting ahead of the storm," emergency crews were much more organized this time around, he said. Public works crews, for example, were already assessing snow removal routes by Jan. 13, several days before the major snow arrived.

Gross said the city also saw less demand for shelter and assistance in 2012, compared to the storms of 2006. Building a relationship with the Red Cross, for example, helped ease the setup of emergency shelters. About 80 people used the Federal Way Community Center as an overnight shelter during the weekend, Gross said.

At City Hall, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was staffed by a handful of volunteers who helped keep communication lines open among first responders. The EOC itself is equipped with several laptop computers and phones, along with about three days of food and water, if needed. Nearby are eight two-way radios installed six years ago by the Federal Way Amateur Radio Club.

Since 2006, the city helped buy a pair of generators, with one stationed at the community center. In case of a significant public emergency, the city will activate its radio station at 900-AM. Better public communication was also available in 2012, thanks to the rise of social media.

The city overall benefits when more individuals are prepared for an emergency, Gross said:

"Individual preparation is a key component to how well a community gets back to normal."

 

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