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Originally published December 15, 2014 at 1:17 PM | Page modified December 15, 2014 at 7:46 PM

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Landslide report lays out steps for preventing future disasters

The commission the governor appointed to determine how to better avoid and respond to landslides after the Oso disaster released 17 recommendations Monday, including a call for more laser mapping of landslide-prone areas.


Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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The commission appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to determine how to better avoid and respond to landslides released a slew of recommendations Monday that included a call for more laser mapping of landslide-prone areas.

In all, the final report of the SR 530 Landslide Commission makes 17 recommendations, and highlights three of those it considers priorities.

Those three are: more mapping of potential hazards through aerial scanning, better funding and integration of the state’s emergency-management system and more clarity to laws for mobilizing first responders.

The state Department of Natural Resources hopes to secure more funding for aerial mapping in the coming legislative session, which the report states would “provide the foundation for sound public and private land-use planning and decision making.”

“A few small areas of Washington are covered by landslide inventory and hazard maps where local jurisdictions initiated and/or funded such efforts,” states the report. “However, few if any adequate landslide hazard, risk, or vulnerability maps exist within the state.”

Inslee announced Monday he would include funding for that effort and some other of the commission’s recommendations in his upcoming budget.

“The transportation investment package that I will announce in greater detail [Tuesday] includes $36 million for landslide mitigation measures, funding for advanced Lidar imagery and risk analysis for priority areas,” Inslee said in prepared remarks.

Another top recommendation is clarifying how the state can mobilize emergency-rescue units during disasters.

In the wake of the Oso landslide, emergency responders asked that state firefighting units be mobilized but were denied by the Washington State Patrol (WSP), according to Kathy Lombardo, the commission’s executive director.

And the state fire marshal, whose office is a part of the WSP, had been told by legal counsel that the law governing such a mobilization applied only to fires, according to the report.

But the mobilization law was originally meant for other large disasters, according to commission member Renee Radcliff Sinclair, and needs to be amended to reflect that.

The third high-priority recommendation is better funding and integration of emergency-management systems around the state.

“Truly sustainable funding for emergency management is going to be critical going forward,” Sinclair said.

The report also recommended the state Department of Commerce update some laws requiring cities and counties to regulate land use in potentially hazardous areas. In addition, it called for creation of an institute to conduct research and train hazard specialists.

Also included were several recommendations to improve the state’s response to disasters, like investigating how specific landslides were activated to better understand them in the future.

The commission wasn’t tasked with holding any people or institutions accountable for the permitting and planning lapses that preceded the March 22 landslide in Snohomish County that killed 43 people.

While at least one county official said after the disaster that “the slide came out of nowhere,” The Seattle Times has documented slides in and around the area stretching back to1900.

Some families who lost relatives in the disaster have sued Snohomish County, along with the state and a forest landowner, alleging those parties contributed to the disaster through “actions and inactions.”

The commission included experts in emergency management, planning and development, geology and hydrology.

Commission member and Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said she already has spoken to some lawmakers about certain recommendations.

And Boudreau says she is willing to testify before the Legislature to maintain momentum.

“We’re really hoping that the conversation doesn’t end here,” she said.

Joseph O'Sullivan: 360-236-8268 or josullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @OlympiaJoe



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