Edmonds Military Wire: Washington state fails disaster preparedness

Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler

The elderly and mentally ill are at risk in Washington state should a disaster strike.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP for short) released its State-by-State Report Card that assesses how each state ranks in five critical areas: Access to Emergency Care, Quality & Patient Safety Environment, Medical Liability Environment, Public Health & Injury Prevention and Disaster Preparedness. After assessing those five areas, Washington state received an overall grade of “D+” and an “F” in Disaster Preparedness.

The report does note that Washington “earns an A- in Public Health and Injury Prevention, which is the fifth highest score in the nation.” Essentially, Washingtonians buckle up, pay attention while driving, use hand sanitizer and only a handful of our population still smokes.
But should a disaster strike, we are in trouble. It will be survival of the fittest.

Washington state failed to implement improvements in preparedness that other states have deployed and as a result plunged from a rank of 33 out of 50 and a “C” grade in 2009 to a rank of 50 and an “F” grade in 2014. In addition, the state has not set aside funds —  nor has a budget line item — for disaster preparedness funding that will cover a health care surge. Which means: Should a disaster strike, funding and procedures that would ensure treatment to those who are medically or mentally vulnerable are severely lacking – if you fit this profile, you should be concerned.

With rail, air traffic, a major freeway and a sea transport channel as its borders, Edmonds has significant exposure to a potential catastrophic disaster and its residents stand a good chance of being “on their own” when the big one hits.

Efforts to address and safeguard against these concerns on a local level have been underway for the past year. The Disaster Medicine Project (DMP) – a joint effort between Fire District 1, Swedish Hospital and Operation Military Family – is training hospital staff on Basic Disaster Life Support and will soon be expanding its training to include veterans (many of whom are already qualified in triage, emergency communications, decontamination and rapid response methods).

One of the primary goals of the project is to have a highly-trained and skilled Rapid Response Team available to South Snohomish County residents that will augment emergency service personnel when a disaster does strike. In a normal disaster, a 48- to 96-hour state and federal response time is not uncommon.

Funding for the project, despite several grant attempts, has failed and is yet to materialize. The project is presently funded through gift-in-kind efforts of the DMP partners.

Bottom line: Don’t expect fire, police, National Guard or the feds to come to your immediate rescue in the case of a catastrophic disaster. Immediate response will be up to this community. And rest assured, funding will materialize…but typically that happens AFTER the disaster.

– By Michael Schindler

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.


  1. So? Students are unprepared for college. Businesses are unprepared for the internet revolution. Couples unprepared for their firstborn. Baby boomers unprepared for retirement. Families unprepared for unexpected expenses. Military unprepared for pandemics. Doctors unprepared for blizzards. Everyone is unprepared for something. Writers unprepared to write something worthwhile.

    In the article there is a nugget of worthwhile information; Washington is better prepared for the things most likely to kill you; car accidents, cancer, and flu.

    This is a fear article; fear the unexpected and ignore the things most likely to kill you because you are familiar with them or they take a long time to kill you. It doesn’t directly address the two things most likely to kill any American today: cancer and heart disease. This writer is unprepared to take on the real tough issues of emergency preparedness. There is only so much money to go around and throwing a bunch of money at terrorism, earthquakes, and old age will save dozens of people when throwing a bunch of money at cancer, heart disease and automobile safety will save thousands or tens of thousands.

    Why doesn’t My Edmonds News take a serious look at the real risks and the cost of real solutions rather than another fear story? Next you’ll be putting a list of 10 top reasons to prepare for an earthquake and why steroids can be cured by a new miracle food that doctors don’t want you to know about.

    My Edmonds News fails disaster preparedness understanding. This article was a real waste of time.

  2. Robert, I encourage you to move beyond being short-sighted and ignorant. This article is not intended to cause panic or fear, but rather, raise awareness.

    Most people think that when a disaster strikes, help is just a phone call away. It isn’t. So, why not be ready as a community to assist one another and know that we have a ready, willing, and trained-up team at the ready to fill the gap until more help arrives?

    We as a nation invest considerable amounts of time, energy and money into combating cancer and heart disease – and yet, people still smoke, they still make bad food choices – and we still subsidize their care. Good – happy to help my fellow human being. When a disaster strikes, past events have proven that when a community works together and a Rapid Response Team is at the ready, more lives are saved, the economy recovers more quickly, and the impact is less devastating.

    The challenge with disaster readiness is that it is much like insurance – you only need it when you need it. Robert, the choice is yours – you can choose to do nothing – or you can prepare. If your choice is to “not prepare,” fine – just don’t let me know who you are…because I just might not be as gracious on that day and implement my grandfather’s logic that “poor planning on your part isn’t my problem.”

    By the way, thanks for reading!

  3. Wow! Mr.Oinus is drowning in MSNBC Kool-aid. Not sure why those of us who volunteer and try to help the less fortunate in our community are doing what we are doing with “concerned” citizens like him.

    Its policies that I’m sure he supports that have killed the family, ruined education and destroyed values like self-reliance and good old “common sense” in this country. Like you said, Mike, it will come down to “survival of the fittest” and Mr.Oinus might find a spot at the end of the long line at the hospital, but be sure he will be first in another line moaning about not being served fast enough, then whining “lawsuit”.

    Hopefully, he doesn’t find himself peddling along some newly-funded bike path somewhere when the train derails spilling chlorine nearby. Had Mr.Oinus been on the “unsinkable” Titanic, he would have pushed for more shuffleboard, “no smoking” and organic food on the menu …lifeboats be damned!

    I do agree with one thing in Mr.Oinus’s “gentlemanly” worded comment: Pouring more money into failed systems is not smart. Thinning out the bureaucrats living off the waste and mismanaged money is smart.

    It is what it is, as they say. Go figure. Keep it up, Mike! Great article.

  4. Mike,

    Thank you for your reply. NOW the conversation begins!
    Yes, we should be prepared. But the state campaigns for personal preparedness have been an utter failure and everyone knows it. 75% of the population say they don’t have a 72 hour kit and if you check the kits (I have), you find it is closer to 95% are not prepared. We could have taken every dollar for 72 hour awareness campaigns and bought kits to hand out at random and would have been further ahead. It has been as successful as the war on drugs.
    Yes, it is like insurance. But many people don’t bother getting insurance. Even with mandatory car insurance, we have a significant percentage driving uninsured. In the Slave Lake, Canada, wildfire of 2011, 35% of the people who lost their homes did not have insurance. In 2011 Brisbaine floods, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the 2013 Colorado floods, people are still fighting with insurance companies over under-coverage, lack of coverage, or exemptions. Do an article on how to prepare for a dispute with your insurance company – 150 pages or more will do. Then tell me that it is as simple as having insurance.
    The study by physicians cites a lack of emergency preparedness and disaster funding. But the public do not want to pay a penny for unused hospital beds, idle doctors, or stockpiles of supplies. The supplies stockpile is a joke when everything is stale-dated, obsolete with new technologies, or has mouse droppings from lack of proper storage or maintenance. So, the question becomes, is ANYONE prepared for a disaster? Perhaps we should budget for 10% additional capacity for fire, police, ambulance, hospitals, utilities, schools, transportation and fuel supplies for when Washington gets the big one. That ought to give Washington a B+ rating. It’ll never happen.
    I agree that the vulnerable will be left out in the cold. But we spend more on guns than any emergency preparedness every year. The cost of the elderly, the medically infirm, those with impairments such as blindness and hearing loss, and those needing assistance is more than taxpayers are willing to spend. Guns and vacations have proven to be much more worthwhile causes according to any spending charts – the public have spoken. Ignore the criminals, drug-users and alcoholics as well. Poor can safely be ignored.
    Even training hospital staff in disaster medicine is suspect. The veterans, more dispersed, are a greater resource as seen in the 1995 Kobe earthquake where 95% of the rescues were performed by untrained police – when the radios fail, the streets are blocked, and people are trapped, the police will perform more rescues than the fire departments because they are already in the community as opposed to stationed in a hall.
    We know the following:
    – Lessons are not learned – any lesson was learned before by another jurisdiction and written.
    – People are unprepared despite any government awareness programs.
    – Government is unprepared and unfunded for disasters
    – We publicize the earthquake, but ignore the power outage, blizzard, lack of smoke detectors, distracted driving because that doesn’t sell papers.

    I have belonged to a volunteer emergency group. I have been in charge of some. I have belonged for decades. Citizen groups come and go due to a lack of direction, leadership, government support, understanding their role, accurate effectiveness studies, and financial funding. The merit badges, fancy uniforms, training certificates, and sense of belonging do not replace the reality of volunteer turnover, personal aggrandizement, requirement for training, or years without anything happening. You are better off joining the Salvation Army, who actually do stuff, than joining a citizens group. Tell everyone they have to spend three years with the Salvation Army disaster response before they truly understand what it is like to respond to a family that has lost their home, help with a flood or an earthquake, or know what it is like to be called out at 3:30 A.M. on Christmas day. Now we are talking about citizen preparedness.

    Doc, thanks for your comments. I am not a “concerned citizen” but an active responder. I have not needed a doctor for 30 years and don’t go for every ache. I take first aid courses and have done volunteer first aid at public events for 15 years. I will not be looking for the first of the line. I have responded to some of the biggest disasters in North American history and am well aware of both the lack of preparedness and the lack of thanks. I have spent 25 years in first aid, amateur radio, evacuation centers, incident management, house and apartment fires, and have spent thousands of dollars in direct donations to individuals affected by hurricanes, flooding, and urban-forest interface fires. I give cash to those in the disaster area on a one-on-one basis as I see the despair, rather than give it to the Red Cross to feel good and for their administration. As for the chlorine train, it was actually an anhydrous train derailment, over 40,000 people were about to be evacuated, I spent four days on site.

    If you are interested in the Titanic deck chairs, you might find the following articles key, rather than just for disaster pornography.
    For the best article on the Titanic myths, see https://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2012/04/ten_things_you_might_not -know.html
    For the identification of the dead, go to the Halifax harbor explosion of 1917 which used the identification procedures developed for the Titanic (the dead were brought to Halifax) as the world standard for future disasters. The son of the medical officer that developed the plan for the Titanic used the same procedures for the 2000 dead and the plan assisted with the 9000 injured. See https://www.cbc.ca/halifaxexplosion/he9_textonly/he2_explosion.html. I probably have studied the Titanic more than you have (final inquiry report, ALL radio transmissions, response efforts, myths, body identification, etc.). If you want a great summary of the Titanic radio transmissions, check out the BBC 100th anniversary recordings. I am not coming at this as an armchair quarterback.

    Every time someone says it is simple as having citizen action groups, insurance, or donations, you are over-simplifying an extremely complex subject. We spend more time worrying about the weather, which we can’t control, than worrying about emergency preparedness, which we can do something about. When people like Doc try to belittle the criticisms, it shows how little actual experience they have. Doc, I spend $2-7,000 a year volunteering for disasters. Join the Salvation Army and tell me seriously that I don’t know what I am talking about. The fact that Mike, Doc and I are the only ones debating this today is a pretty clear example of how seriously people take this issue.

    Thanks, Mike, for responding. I betcha $5 neither of us makes a difference! (A bet I would be happy to lose….) Doc, I appreciate you commenting. At least you take the time to say what you think and take an interest in the topic. And for the “gentlemanly” worded comment – was that REALLY what you wanted to call me? (Appreciated, nonetheless)


  5. Mr.Oinus,

    First, let me acknowledge your fatigue and cynicism derived from a wholehearted, dedicated participation in the system as an active responder and a volunteer with service and passion. My thanks for that, not that you need it.

    While driving thousands of miles and sitting on committee after committee for a decade and a half it has become very discouraging to try to accomplish anything surrounded by “professional” committee dwellers and bureaucrats who lose their jobs when problems actually get solved. This repetitive uphill battle is impossible in the absence of targeted education regarding the issues at hand. Preparedness planning without knowledgeable participants does not work.

    What that ongoing unwinnable battle has beaten into me, like you I believe, is to compel me to focus closer to home for solutions as the “greater good” lies beyond achievable. I’ve not given up entirely, still acting beyond my “self” interest, concentrating now on building neighborhood and community awareness.

    So? Don’t educate? Your citing of the lack of contributions to this article debate is truly disheartening, but only defines those who have not signed in. It does not include those who may be reading or are stimulated to get more involved or educated regarding preparedness or even confirming what they have read or heard elsewhere. Additionally, it is sad to say, the loss of our ability to speak freely without fear of retribution in this country I know plays an active role in the absenteeism from this debate forum as well.

    You may agree education leads to a better understanding, which in turn leads to belief and finally to action. The absence of any of those steps leads only to inaction and dependence.

    And yes. Your rudeness is only an attempt to shut down the debate completely and end any endeavor at education. Preparedness principles for emergencies, as in life, are no longer taught in schools. So you are correct when you say that baby boomers aren’t prepared for retirement or illness or flooding or whatever the issue. Those principles are no longer valued in schools and therefore the education piece of the puzzle is gone…so no understanding, no belief and no action…just dependence.

    For the record, this is why I do not join Facebook or Twitter. I don’t have the time to sit and trivialize important issues through meaningless battle with semantics and defeatist language. I’d rather fight the real battle than write endlessly about it.

    Thanks again for your service to humanity.

  6. Robert, happy to meet you over a cup of coffee. Here’s what I do know – most of what you are saying is “spot on” – but here is where we can make impact:

    Most communities throughout America, and certainly here locally, we have seasoned Service Members who are trained in decontamination, Communications, Triage and rapid response, returning to our communities and to our colleges.

    At present, I have access to several hundred veterans in local community colleges who are willing to be a part of their community and serve in this capacity. Many of these “volunteers” will remain in this community.

    It does take commitment – it does take funds – and while the rest of our community may choose to “ignore” or remain ignorant on this issue, those of us who take this seriously (because we have been involved in several “once in lifetime” events) have a responsibility to be on the front lines when that next “once in a lifetime” event happens.

    Stop by my office sometime – love to treat you to a cup of coffee.

  7. Doc,

    My fatigue comes from covering three full-time jobs because the government will not fill two empty positions. The people that responded to our last disaster have been rewarded with pay cuts, position downgrades, and GPS tracking on an hourly basis. We have had a 70% turnover every two years – pretty clear indication of the priority of emergency management.

    Trying to accomplish anything with the bureaucratic mentality has been a challenge. They mandate the Incident Command System, but won’t do it themselves (“ICS is flexible, so we don’t need objectives, the Finance can order food and nobody needs to sign in…). Yet, the public is not aware of the deep issues, and consultants are chewing up the budget. I teach consultants how to do their job, then get stuck with cleaning up their plans, exercises, and programs when they leave because there was not enough money and they don’t have the knowledge of the subject.

    I am truly sorry about my perceived rudeness. Like you, I abhor Twitter and Facebook for the trivialization of key issues. Yet, we never seem to have the debate that is required. Why do we spend so much time on guns and the Super Bowl ads when there are huge issues to discuss? Why do we ignore science and statistics in favour of anecdotes and bipartisanship? My comments are based on fact, rather than emotion. If that is rude, I’m sorry.

    The school issue is a huge one. Yes, that is where preparedness should be taught. But that is where respect should be taught, that is where math should be taught, that is where thinking should be taught, that is where life skills should be taught. Again, under-funded, not respected, and easy to blame. I know many teachers who despair due to lack of support from the parents, the schools, the management and the state. Yet they battle on.

    The dependence issue hurts. I have seen 90 year old women carried from a burned apartment building because the fire department would not check the suites after a four alarm fire was put out. I watched a woman cry because she lost a $200 social assistance check in an apartment fire and that was all she had. I have had 6 year old children translate for me because the parents do not speak English although they work. Yes, we are teaching people to be dependent.

    I have also had politicians refuse to evacuate because that would inconvenience them, rich people complain that we didn’t pump their neighborhood first, and homeowners complain when we didn’t replace their granite countertops, pool tables, and big-screen TVs rather than going through insurance. Dependence is not as simple as it seems; especially when you have a senior politician screaming at you for upholding the law.
    There is no way that I would trivialize this issue. I live it and breathe it each day. I must admit, however, that writing about it today is the only way I can work out my frustration for a government, a community, and the individuals who ignore what I have been trying to accomplish. Emergency preparedness doesn’t take a lot of money, it shouldn’t take a lot of time, it is more important than the Olympics and the Super Bowl, and yet it is talking to a brick wall.

    Again, I look at the reality of emergency preparedness. We fear the “Big One”, but do nothing to strap our hot water heaters to the walls. We have first aid kits, but few take a first aid course and fewer still ever check their first aid kit. We put together 72 hour kits with tins of food and bundles of clothes, but have no cash, toilet paper, or can opener in the kit. We have no evacuation list stapled to the bag; all the things that would never be in the bag but we would be lost without (computer, phone charger, heirlooms, valuables, passports, prescriptions, heirlooms/mementos). So we evacuate with two minutes’ notice and don’t bring more than a couple of things.
    If you check the internet on 72 hour kits and preparedness, you will not find ANY reports of it working. None. I have looked for years for just one news story, one anecdote, or one lessons learned where the person had a 72 hour kit and it worked. None. The best story was the Australian reporter who had a 72 hour kit and evacuated for the floods. She had written several times about 72 hour kits (“Go Bags” in Aus). She got to the reception centre and appreciated the fact she had diapers, baby formula, toys, and key things for babies. Then she pointed out that her kids were in university and the kit was essentially useless. There is the challenge for you, Doc. You find ONE successful story and pass it onto me.

    And before you think I am completely burned out, I am travelling 1000 miles and 3000 miles at my expense to try to encourage people to be better prepared. I may be burned out, but I am not giving up! You’d be hard-pressed to find me being negative at my presentations because I do hope someone will take the message home. My problem is I haven’t figured out how to actually have an effective impact; to have twenty or forty people come back after a disaster and tell me that anything I said actually made a difference.

    Doc, thanks for caring. I may be rude, but I am appreciative!

  8. Mike,

    Would love to sit down and chat one day – don’t know where or when, but we do need to make an impact. I still haven’t seen anyone truly make a successful impact. That’s my beef. How do we get citizens to take this seriously? Especially when they have kids, their Visa is maxed out and they have a deadline to worry about for work. \

    I appreciate the access to veterans, but unless they are organized like search and rescue (weekly training, specific curriculum, regular callouts) they are more like amateur radio (good will, not reliable, large numbers unable to respond).

    The funds aren’t coming. We look at the empty EOCs and see a room to be filled with books or turned into office space. We look at training and put it off until after the disaster. We have great plans that we never pull off the shelf. We wonder why we spend any money on this at all, until after the disaster and then complain about how nobody else did anything about it.

    I have now responded to six “once in a lifetime” events in the last 11 years. Most of them occurred in the community once before in the last twenty years. I agree that we have a responsibility to do better next time. But that isn’t me and you. It is the citizens of Edmonds, and King County and Washington State.

    I’d love to have the coffee! I tell you what; you get the 72 hour kit preparedness up to a 30% success rate and I’ll come up and buy you dinner.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate you taking this as food for thought rather than JUST a rant (okay, I needed to get some of it out of my system….).

    Maybe My Edmonds News will pay you to do a full article on this!


  9. Mr. Oinus,

    After all the posturing, it seems we agree on most every point you make. Mike’s article may have done nothing except spark the discussion WE have had today, but I truly believe we are saying the same things. Coffee? With Mike? Maybe WE could get something done. What do you say?


  10. Doc,

    I might be able to drive to Washington in March. Send your contact info to mail at tox.ca and I’ll see what I can do. No promises. Dinner will be on me if we can make it work!


  11. Dinner is on me when we get this threesome together. Doing the “right thing” isn’t always easy nor glamorous – but it still remains the right thing. Robert and Doc, I salute you both on your continued efforts.

    Robert – part of what DMP is doing is organizing, with the help of Swedish and FD 1, and managing the continuity of the teams and plan – which, as you mention, is often lacking.

    Hang in there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.