LINCOLN CITY — During Monday evening’s Lincoln City City Council meeting, city Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Ken Murphy gave a final report to the council on how the city can better equip itself to face disaster scenarios such as the Echo Mountain Complex fire.
Murphy, a former director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Administration regional administrator, says emergency preparedness is something all coastal residents should be well versed in.
“I’ve always taken the approach in 20 years of doing this is that being properly prepared for an emergency or disaster situation is something you have to do constantly,” Murphy told the News-Times on Thursday morning. “People need to be reminded that being prepared is not a sudden spectacular program. As a matter of fact, it’s a way of life.”
Murphy used the response to September’s fires that forced evacuations in Otis, Rose Lodge and north Lincoln City as the basis for his recommendations, and he divided his presentation into four areas in which Lincoln City could improve — communications, evacuation planning, creating an emergency operations center and training.
If Murphy had one point he hoped would hit home with the city council Monday, it’s that communications during an emergency event are essential to combat the misinformation and half truths that come from word spreading through unofficial channels of communication, such as neighborhood Facebook sites and community message boards.
“I think for me, the most important aspect for us is having the ability to have good communications,” he told the News-Times. “That way we’re able to tell people what has happened, potentially what’s going to happen and what they should do.”
When it comes to providing the public basic information during any disaster scenario, Murphy told the council that no single solution can prevent the potential failure of cellphones, internet, websites and social media during an event such as the Echo Mountain fire, when power and utilities aren’t fully functional. Murphy also indicated that the Lincoln City Police Department won’t have 100 percent communication coverage within city limits until March.
As far as recommendations to improve the city’s ability to communicate with the public, Murphy suggested the city consider hiring a public information officer to manage the city’s website and monitor and respond to the public on its social media sites. Other recommendations included the development of a crisis communications plan, providing Lincoln County emergency operations with a Lincoln City liaison, consider the possibility of a municipal radio station and better use of the city’s Community Emergency Response Team.
The city needs to develop a city evacuation plan for disaster events other than tsunamis, Murphy said, that maintains use of the level one, two and three evacuation orders. He said encouraging members of the city’s lodging industry to participate in communicating the city’s disaster plans to tourists is essential.
Murphy’s wish list for a potential Lincoln City Emergency Operations Center was long, and he noted to the News-Times he recognizes the city’s budget for next year will suffer due to this year’s financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the wildfires.
“This is really me putting down what I think we need to have for a good, functional emergency operations center in the city,” Murphy said. “And always keep in mind, can (city) employees even get to the operations center? As they were in this particular fire disaster, are they victims of the disaster, and of course, is the EOC usable?”
Some of his requests for a Lincoln City EOC included purchasing 48 new phones and laptops, extra portable tables, 10 portable printers, two large television screens and 10 4G hotspots.
Murphy spent the final portion of his presentation on training and preparedness for emergency situations. He suggested conducting monthly progressive virtual EOC training classes, conduct disaster-specific training for city employees and hold events promoting citizen preparedness.
“I will continue to develop more specifics and answer some of the questions (councilors) have given me tonight, and put together some timelines of how we can accomplish these things, and kind of separate out some of those things that are budget-related” Murphy said at the conclusion of his presentation. “I’ll come back to (the council) here before long and get you some definitive information.”
To watch video from Monday’s council meeting and review its agenda and agenda packet, go to https://bit.ly/3pkU5Xc.