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When the snow shows, city will be ready

Communication was lost, traffic signals out and several residents left with no place to turn for warmth and shelter.

Cold weather may not be on the mind now, but in just a few months, the city could be covered in a blanket of white, fluffy snow and clear, slippery ice. The Federal Way City Council, in a vow to guarantee that winter 2007 will not be a duplicate of this past winter, decided to purchase emergency snow, ice, auxiliary power, and communication equipment at its July 17 meeting.

The council approved spending just over $1.3 million for the equipment. The money comes from various places, including the city's Real Estate Excise Tax, sales tax and permit fees and leftover money from City Hall construction.

"It's going to go a long way as far as stepping up the preparedness and response (to emergencies) in Federal Way," Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Gross said.

Currently, the city deploys three trucks to conquer all of Federal Way's snow and ice during winter storms and emergencies. The trucks can generally keep major arterials clear, but doing so means they must sacrifice plowing and sanding on less-traveled and residential streets, said street systems manager Marwan Salloum.

Three trucks, two five-yard and one 10-yard, will be purchased to diminish the snow and ice in the city's more isolated areas. Two existing trucks will be equipped with a pre-wet system, which dispenses a mixture of sand and de-icing agents. The trucks will be able to accommodate a combination of plows, sanders and de-icing storage tanks. They can also be used for hauling purposes when they are not being used for emergencies, Salloum said.

The purchase of new auxiliary power batteries for traffic signals will allow the city's lights to stay lit and properly functioning during emergencies. This past winter, all the city's traffic lights were inoperable when the power went out, Public Works Director Cary Roe said.

At approximately 30 of the city's 75 intersections that are directed by signals, batteries will kick in to operate the lights if the power goes out, Roe said. The batteries will be used in traffic signals that are located along major corridors, such as Pacific Highway South, State Route 161, South 348th Street, South 336th Street, South 312th Street and others. The batteries will have a four- to six-hour life span and the city will purchase extra batteries in preparation of a prolonged outage, Salloum said.

Operable traffic signals will assist residents in reaching emergency shelters. The city plans to purchase a 1,000-kilowatt generator to be used at the Federal Way Community Center, which will serve as a temporary shelter during emergencies. Two portable, 60-kilowatt trailer-mounted generators will also be purchased and made available to non-profit groups for use in supplying shelters.

The City Council agreed to offer a $100,000 incentive to groups wishing to operate temporary shelters during an emergency. The city hopes the money will inspire nonprofit groups to open their doors and roll out their blankets — making it easier for the city to ensure all residents are being cared for during cold weather and power outages. It will relieve the city of some of its burden, Roe said. This past winter, Landmark on the Sound served as a shelter, as did the King County Aquatic Center. Several churches have shown an interest in possibly acting as shelters this winter, officials say.

In order to assist Federal Way residents in locating emergency shelters, the city will also invest in communication equipment, Roe said. During the snow and wind storms residents had a hard time determining where they should go to find a warm, safe place to reside, Gross said. The city's traditional way of relaying information — television and Internet — was not available. The city passed on instructions for its residents to news stations, but information directed to Federal Way residents got lost in between information directed to major metropolitan areas, such as Seattle, Gross said.

For this reason the city will purchase 30 portable radios and a portable, trailer-mounted AM radio station, Roe said.

Residents will be have the option of receiving information directly from city staff. They will be informed of the station they must tune to for advice and directions during emergencies, Gross said. The radio station will allow residents from all areas of the city to know where they can seek help and shelter.

"Radios are more common in households and almost everyone has the ability to go to their car and listen to radio instructions," Gross said.

The city has already begun its search for additional snow and ice equipment, Roe said. If the machinery can be found without having to order from its manufacturers it is likely to arrive much sooner, Salloum said. Sometimes it can take six months to get equipment to address snow and ice, he said.

"Our hope will be to try to get as much as we can for this upcoming winter," Salloum said.

Contact Jacinda Howard at: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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