News Flash

Planning & Public Works

Posted on: January 25, 2012

Calm between storms: county crews manage the clean-up

Wednesday Jan 25 2012 5:07 PM

County crews are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel from the storm events that started Friday, Jan. 13 and lasted more than a week.

Although calls are still trickling in, the call volume is diminishing steadily compared to the approximately 600 phone calls that Pierce County received last week for downed trees, snow and ice concerns, and localized flooding. County crews continue to make good progress removing and chipping roadside tree debris.

"I am so proud of the thorough response by Pierce County employees," County Executive Pat McCarthy said. "Road crews plowed hundreds of miles of roads. Employees in various divisions throughout Public Works and Utilities pitched in to help clear downed trees and other debris. Our Sewer Utility staff managed pump stations and the wastewater treatment plant during power outages and spikes. And our Emergency Management staff helped coordinate the entire response. This was a total team effort to keep Pierce County residents safe."

Here is a detailed look at Pierce County's response to the storm:

ROADS: About 340 sites experienced lane or road closures due to tree debris and downed utility lines in the roadway. Crews went through 2,516 tons of salt, plowed 1,517 lane miles of primary arterial routes multiple times, and cleared 924 lane miles of secondary roads in unincorporated Pierce County. They worked 12-hour shifts in 28 snow-response zones.

Public Works and Utilities brought in not only their road operations crews, but also enlisted employees from their traffic division, surface water management division, equipment services division and the sewer utility to help with chainsaw operation for downed trees, snowplow operation, brush chipper operation and other tasks that needed immediate attention.

"Though we've been working very long hours in a high stress environment since last weekend, we've experienced only two minor injuries and no significant equipment damage. In my experience, these last two facts are remarkable, especially since our team could hear trees crashing around them as they cleared roads," said Bruce Wagner, road operations manager.

SEWER: Sewer Utility works kept 59 pump stations operating during power and data outages. They also kept the Chambers Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant operating during multiple power failures and voltage spikes, giving customers one less thing to worry about.

EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Department of Emergency Management personnel worked round the clock to coordinate the response with public safety agencies, power companies and aid organizations. The department posted more than 100 items on its emergency blog and the county's Twitter account to keep citizens, businesses, jurisdictions and policymakers up to date on the progress of the emergency response. Staff continue to take hundreds of calls from residents and businesses in the Damage Assessment Center, which is a critical step in the process of seeking a federal disaster declaration.

The new road closure map on the emergency information blog was activated for the first time for this incident. Public Works and Utilities field staff entered road information on their laptops, which immediately updated the road closure map.

Volunteers played a critical role in providing transportation, communication and emergency shelter. Shelters were set up in those areas that lost power for overnight, Ham radio operators kept the communication going between the shelters and emergency operations centers, and the Search and Rescue 4x4 team provided transportation for essential hospital and caregiver personnel, as well as to some of our more vulnerable residents. In one instance, a ride to a shelter was provided to an 82-year-old woman and her 102-year-old mother.

'This is why the volunteer groups train and give of their time and resources - to be able to help in times of emergency like this,' said Emergency Management Director Steve Bailey. 'They are an integral part of any of our activations and are much appreciated.'

The Sewer Utility received a note of thanks from a Northeast Tacoma resident who awoke at 2:30 a.m. to the sound of her sewer pump alarm. She was on the phone with a utility staff member within minutes, and a crew was on the scene two hours later. "My neighbor was extremely grateful because a pipe had broken in his basement and they were completely unaware of the problem," she wrote. "Please acknowledge the great work of your employees."

And just when the weather related issues seemed to be decreasing, the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for parts of Western Washington, including Pierce County through late Thursday night. Pierce County is focused on cleaning up the aftermath of the storm while keeping an eye on the flood forecast and whatever else Mother Nature throws this way.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Bruce Wagner, road operations manager253-798-6051bwagner@co.pierce.wa.us

Mary Powers, Public Works and Utilities public information officer253-798-2464mpower1@co.pierce.wa.us

Sheri Badger, Emergency Management253-377-4149sbadger@co.pierce.wa.us

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