Out from the mudslide and debris – no shortage of critics will emerge

Robert Mitchell, M.D.
Robert Mitchell, M.D.

“Monday-morning quarterbacking” will undoubtedly surface – overshadowing the heroic efforts of first responders in the early and ALWAYS dysfunctional “fog” of any crisis response, as well as “back-seat driving” the ongoing mammoth efforts in the aftermath of the Oso devastation.

The initial stages of the local response to the shocking mudslide this past Saturday will be “microscopically” scrutinized; every decision analyzed, every minute accounted for, every statement to the press dissected – all from a comfy chair in a comfy office, without the clock running or lives on the line. Already the “know-it-all” pieces from the so-called experts at the news desks are weighing in with their customary finger-pointing and tone.

This serves no worthwhile purpose, but WILL WOUND the response leadership, emergency workers, volunteers and families of the victims. As with all disasters, a painstakingly detailed after-action review (AAR) process happens when the dust settles, emotions cool, the adrenaline super-charge wears down and the “recovery” process is in full throttle. By recovery, I mean debris removal, road clearing and the slow agonizing return to “normal” for the residents of Oso, Darrington and Arlington – “normal” being a “relative” condition – the pain of these events will never go away.

The morning and evening press conferences are very revealing to the keen, studied observer. As D-plus 5 unfolded fatigue and work overload were starting to show. Understand – the very operationally/technically-laden leadership roles are not the “ideal” 2-3 deep, allowing rest and energy replenishment for all involved. Passionately stated by Chief Hots in that morning’s media briefing, he described his “day off” the previous day, spent at the muddy scene getting a “hands-on” sense of how his “guys” were doing and feeling out where the actual digging and searching was going on – instead of sleeping and eating something other than cold pizza.

A comprehensive knowledge of the landscape, rescue operations, local systems/institutions and established relationships already in place, along with the pulse of the community – not to mention the quality of “leadership” almost MIA today – to find all those facets in two or more individuals – impossible – and definitely not from “outsiders”, no matter how willing or compassionate. This response effort is very personal to ALL the “locals” involved.

As observers from afar, in the safety and comfort of our heated and dry homes or offices, it behooves us to “cut some slack” to those who are tirelessly and unselfishly putting themselves on the line to do the best job they can to serve their community, families and friends in this tragic crisis response effort.

– Article submitted by Robert Mitchell, M.D.

This article is 8th in the author’s Crisis Response 101 educational series devoted to hospital emergency preparedness. Robert Mitchell, M.D., is an Edmonds resident for 30 years, board certified in OB/GYN, practicing at Stevens/Swedish-Edmonds for 18 years, retired from active OB/GYN practice in 2002. “I was struck by the events on 9/11 and became interested in the areas of disasters and response attaining board certification in Disaster Medicine in 2007. Now embedded in many local disaster response projects, I have enthusiastically volunteered all my time over the past eleven years working with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, hospitals, law enforcement, emergency management and the fire service in crisis response training, planning and exercises. As acting medical director and Lead Instructor for the SnoCO Fire District 1 Basic Disaster Life Support course and an adviser to the Disaster Medicine Project, a SnoCO Fire District 1 initiative, I am committed to strengthening our healthcare and community resilience potential.”

6 Replies to “Out from the mudslide and debris – no shortage of critics will emerge”

  1. The men and women on the recovery teams are doing an incredible job in horrible and very challenging conditions. I applaud their efforts every day that I see another professional and heartfelt press conference. No one should be doing any ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ until they are working in the same muddy shoes. Thank you for this reminder article and for your work in Disaster Support, as well.


  2. Thanks for reading this!


    Good to know you and hopefully many others are paying attention. The need for “local” readiness is essential. The Disaster Medicine Project is attempting to help do just that by working to train and educate Swedish Edmonds in crisis management; collaborating with SnoCO Fire District 1 and to integrate military veterans for their skills with the added benefit of helping assimilate these vets back into their community through renewed duty and purpose.

    We are a caring community. Resilience and recovery are all part of the caring mission of the DMP – for our returning vets as well as our home, Edmonds.

    This is only the beginning of the unfortunate “mudslinging” that will tarnish the early challenges that were faced and overcome given the immensity of the situation. Believe me if too many resources were requested those very same critics would now be focused on wasteful overreaction and duplication of effort and a huge bill sent to the taxpayer because the proper steps for requesting help were not followed to the “T”.

    But again the need for “local” readiness is crucial to rapidly turn chaos to control. Chaos always happens in disaster. It takes practice to overcome it…more practice and training, faster response, more lives saved.

    Doc Mitchell


  3. Thanks!!! Jeanne!!

    I appreciate your taking time to read this article. I spent all afternoon today at the Oso site of devastation off Rt 530. It was very moving as I interacted with many of the responders from the Guard, fire service and the sheriff’s office. On my way out I passed a torn, mud-covered American flag. I believe it was recovered from the debris and now hangs proudly from one of the staging area tents, clearly there for inspiration for all who come to help.

    Brought tears.

    Doc Mitchell


  4. Dr. Mitchell,

    Beth Engel here. Now Beth Engel Rodriguez. I wondered if you were still involved in disaster preparedness and then I saw this article! We’re lucky to have all your volunteer efforts devoted to our community.



    1. Beth!!!!

      So nice to hear from you. Thanks for your support. Yes, been in Arlington/Oso past couple days. The community is working hand-in-hand with the responders. I met with several fire chiefs yesterday for a 31/2 hour briefing and left so proud of these courageous responders and the warmth and respect the fire leadership has for the community and the volunteers that have rallied to the “cause”.

      Stay informed. Your PIO skills were surely needed early on as well as now. The call just went out yesterday for PIO help.



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