Report indicates Poulsbo not prepared for disasters

City approves .1% sales tax for transportation

A report by ex-Bainbridge Island firefighter Luke Carpenter indicates that Poulsbo is not prepared to respond and recover from a natural or human-caused disaster.

“This is something that I already knew, frankly,” Mayor Becky Erickson said following Carpenter’s presentation at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting. “We are not as prepared as we should be. That became very apparent during the pandemic. I think Poulsbo did pretty well through the pandemic…but we really had no outside resources to help us.”

Poulsbo, like other jurisdictions in the state, is legally required to create and maintain a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and Emergency Operations Plan compliant with federal and state guidelines, documents read. The council approved the use of $9,800 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (COVID) funding in April to review the two plans and identify areas for improvement and implementation. Carpenter completed a report on the city’s emergency preparedness in December.

Carpenter has 31 years of fire service, retiring as assistant chief of prevention and preparedness for the BI Fire Department. In 2011, he began developing and implementing emergency preparedness support for Bainbridge Island. In 2021, he was hired to assess Poulsbo’s emergency readiness. Since then, Carpenter has conducted 15 interviews with staff and others to assist in gauging readiness and future needs.

The report indicates Poulsbo is at risk for 17 of the 18 natural hazards included in the National Risk Index. There are also human-caused hazards that can rise from deliberate or intentional human actions to threaten or harm the well-being of others. Examples include school violence, terrorist acts, pandemic, radiological emergencies, data breach, etc.

“Reliance on outside resources will prove ineffective after a natural disaster which isolates the community,” the report states. “Human-caused disasters, such as data breaches, will significantly impact not only the city’s infrastructure but also expose personal data of citizens who rely on the infrastructure. The city currently struggles to respond to small-scale emergencies, such as cold weather emergencies.”

Recommendations from Carpenter consist of: establish an emergency management section of government; identify and address critical areas of risk for natural and human-caused disasters; build community resilience; develop a volunteer responder cadre to assist with emergency response including mitigation, risk reduction, response and recovery; seek grants and other funding for risk-reduction projects; and improve response for small-scale events.

“The biggest threat is the one you don’t know about,” Carpenter said. “Five years ago, we didn’t understand the impacts of a pandemic but we rose to the occasion and worked through it.”

Carpenter added that recent tsunami and earthquake data indicate this area is significantly more at risk than in previous years.

Key questions to consider moving forward include:

  • Should Poulsbo emergency management be led by the city or Kitsap County?
  • Should the city invest in an emergency management coordinator?
  • How can the community play a meaningful role in emergency preparedness?
  • Should the EOC be relocated to City Hall?

“The idea that the county is going to come in and save us is absurd,” Erickson said. “It’s not going to happen.”

The mayor also said while the city’s population is around 12,000, in a natural disaster the city would have to support closer to 40,000 people because of all the county residents around Poulsbo. She said community support is needed to create an organization similar to Bainbridge Prepares, but most likely on a smaller scale to start.

Councilmember Gary McVey said the city is ready to begin the emergency preparedness process.

“I think the citizens of Poulsbo are ready, prepared and willing to step up and help with this if we enable that,” he said. “Clearly, I think the city needs to be responsible for its own disaster preparedness but the county needs to be a partner. I am a little hesitant on hiring a full-time person to oversee emergency preparedness. We just got through a pretty rigorous budget process. I think I would like to find somebody on a part-time basis who could at least help us get this started.”

.1% tax hike

Meanwhile, the council also approved a .1% sales tax increase for the Transportation Benefit District. Revenue generated will be about $500,000 per year to support growing needs for road improvements, which have been challenged due to property tax growth limitations, documents state.

The tax will be in place for 10 years and would then need to be renewed or eliminated. The increase in sales tax within city boundaries would be generated by those using city roads and shopping within city limits.