Grants bolster emergency preparedness in Federal Way

The city handed out nearly $50,000 to community groups with plans to better Federal Way's emergency preparedness.

The money was allocated as part of a $1.5 million pool approved by the city council in 2007. Of this, $100,000 was set aside as matching funds to organizations that will expand the city's emergency shelter operations, overall emergency preparedness efforts and emergency communications systems. Ten projects were submitted and five were selected.

"I was kind of surprised by the number that did submit," emergency management coordinator Ray Gross said. "Ten projects exceeded my expectation."

St. Vincent de Paul Parish, the Federal Way Multi-Service Center and Federal Way Amateur Radio Club each received funding. The projects had to benefit the submitting agencies as well as the city to qualify for funding. Sixty-thousand dollars of the grant was set aside for back-up power related projects. Another $25,000 was designated for general emergency preparedness and the remaining $15,000 was marked for communication projects.

St. Vincent received $20,000 to be used toward the purchase of an on-site generator. The parish already serves as an emergency shelter. The generator will expand those services.

The Multi-Service Center was awarded $15,000 total for three projects. The center will purchase emergency equipment, produce community outreach brochures and provide emergency supplies and training. The preparedness brochures will be sent to approximately 48,000 households in South King County, human resources and safety manager Annette Coder said. They will contain tips for how to prepare for an emergency by taking small, affordable steps.

Reminders for residents to identify out-of-state emergency contacts and purchase items, such as batteries and flashlights, in small quantities to slowly compile a preparedness kit will be included in the brochure. The brochure will be printed in English, Spanish, Korean and Russian/Ukrainian. Low-income families do not have to let cost restrict them from being prepared for an emergency, Coder said.

"We mostly serve a lower population who may not have the resources or ability to buy a bunch of supplies," she said.

Radio repeater: A first in South King County

Federal Way Amateur Radio Club received $15,000 for its communications project. The club already issues emergency alerts via ham radio and assists with the Neighborhood Emergency Teams program.

It will now construct a digital amateur radio repeater at the community center. The repeater will use digital smart technology and will be the first of its kind in South King County, club president Dave Swartz said. The system will allow the transmission of voice, data and location from handheld portable radios throughout the greater Federal Way area, he said.

The projects will all free up public services to deal with urgencies resulting from emergency situations, Gross said.

"That's less of a call for service coming from those areas," Gross said. "It frees up police and fire to respond to life-threatening issues."

The latest step

The grant is the latest step in helping Federal Way and its residents prepare for an emergency. The city already established an emergency operations center, uses CodeRed (a program to alert residents, via voicemail, of upcoming emergencies targeting the city), oversees volunteer emergency teams, operates an AM radio station for emergencies and is preparing for a large-scale FEMA test, to happen in late August.

The groundwork for ensuring residents safety has been set, Gross said. A total of $50,080 of the grant was not appropriated. The council will be asked to set the money aside for another grant offering in 2010, Gross said. Plans such as a mass purchase of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) equipment, the bolstering of emergency shelters and the development of more volunteer organizations to assist in emergency management are items the city could use, but does not yet have, Gross said.

Emergency management is gaining in popularity, but has a long way to go before it's at the forefront of residents' minds. Gross hopes that emergency preparedness soon becomes as hip as being environmentally conscious, he said.

"I would like (emergency) preparedness to become just as talked about and encouraged as ‘go green,’" Gross said.

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