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Flood Preparation Involves Persistent, Perpetual Planning

Emergency crews have been fortifying U.S. Highway 97 with sandbags outside of Oroville, Washington.
Emily Schwing
Emergency crews have been fortifying U.S. Highway 97 with sandbags outside of Oroville, Washington.

Emergency crews have been preparing for high water in Washington state's Okanogan Valley since early in the month. The Okanogan River hasn’t even crested yet, but they’re already starting to think about what happens when the flood is over.

When flooding happens, it moves slow, it’s somewhat predictable and yet, it seems that everyone—including emergency managers—are always planning.

“The minute we mobilize, we’re de-mobing,” Okanogan County Emergency Management Department Director Maurice Goodall said. “We have to plan for the event, get there and handle it but the minute we get there, there’s somebody always thinking about stopping.”

Goodall is already thinking about mosquitoes.

“We got water everywhere, there’s puddles of water everywhere,” he said. 

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, and they are a public health concern. They can spread West Nile Virus and other illnesses.

There’s also the challenge of cleaning up more than 500,000 sand bags that have been dispersed all over the largest county in the state of Washington.

Oroville Mayor Jon Neal says he’s already got a plan.

“We’ve got a yard where we are getting the sand out of,” he said. “Our plan is if they want to they can bring them back, cut the bags open, dump the sand out, and throw the bags in the dumpster.”

But that’s not an easy job for residents who don’t have a way to transport water-logged sand bags.

Goodall says there are a few disaster response organizations that have already expressed interest in helping after the floodwaters recede.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.