After an eventful week in Lincoln City, following wind storms, fires and evacuations, the City Council is beginning to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses in their emergency preparedness plans.
The Lincoln City City Council convened for a short meeting Sept. 15 to ratify the Echo Mountain Complex Emergency Declaration that was signed on Sept. 8. The hour long Zoom meeting was scheduled to be live streamed to the public, but issues with the City’s host prevented a live viewing. Instead, the meeting was uploaded to lincolncity.org as soon as it concluded.
Prior to the agreement to ratify the declaration, the floor was opened for public comment. Two local residents spoke on camera in the City Council Chambers, raising concerns surrounding the evacuation that occurred Sept. 9.
Resident Fran Lonnon scrutinized the City’s planning for road projects on West and East Devils Lake road, which made evacuations challenging, and also asked why they have a lack of generators at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital. The power outage at the hospital caused patients to be transferred to Newport via ambulance during the evacuation.
“Who has a hospital that doesn’t have a generator? There is no excuse for that,” Lonnon said. “A hospital should not be shut down in an emergency situation because they do not have power.”
Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital (SNLH) representatives later responded and clarified that the hospital was evacuated due to the wildfire threat and not because the power was shut off throughout much of the City. Additionally, SNLH had an increasing number of staff having to leave work due to their own personal evacuation orders, which put a strain on their ability to continue to provide medical care with a limited staff.
"Some are saying that we evacuated patients and staff from our incredible new hospital because we have no generator. That is very far from the truth," Samaritan said on a Facebook post. "In fact, this hospital has an abundance of means to support our medical, technical and utility systems which allowed us to provide care safely and effectively throughout the power outages related to the windstorm and wildfires. Our community is blessed to have this facility!"
With the power coming on and off for several days, internet connection lost and cell phone service considered unreliable for most people, communication to residents became a challenge. Lonnon felt the lack of communication from the City was “absolutely unacceptable.”
“The information to the community was almost non-existent, and that’s really scary,” Lonnon said. “If we would’ve had a tsunami, we would’ve been wiped out.
“There were all kinds of things that could’ve and should’ve happened here and did not… and I find that very distressing.”
Another resident who spoke at the meeting echoed Lonnon’s concerns. Their comments can be heard at http://lincolncityor.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.
Lincoln City City Manager Ron Chandler said the City is trying to keep track of the comments that have been coming in regarding the emergency response, and they plan to have an after action review and use those comments to evaluate future plans.
“This emergency, actually, is being managed by the County’s emergency management operations center because the fire has occurred within the County,” Chandler said. “We have been providing assistance to the County through all levels of our department.”
Chandler said all information they put out is funneled through the County, but acknowledged that one area of improvement he has noticed is providing quality information from the onset of the emergency.
“What you’re receiving now is very good information, but it evolved over the last week,” Chandler said.
Another issue the City and County will address is identifying where people are going for their information. Chandler said based on the feedback they’ve received so far, many of the traditional sources of information may not have been utilized last week.
Councilor Diana Hinton reminded the public that communication was extremely difficult during the evacuation last week without power, internet and limited cell service.
“I think, not that we just have the opportunity but that we have the obligation, to somehow communicate with our community members during difficult times, which this was certainly off the charts,” Hinton said of the community’s reliance on the City for communication.
Hinton said they hope to have a work session to talk about some of these issues while they are still fresh in everyone’s minds. Hinton also wanted to note that there is a hierarchy in a declared emergency and the communication and actions start at the top, which in this case was the the County leaders in Newport.
Councilor Rick Mark said although he did not have power or internet, he was still able to find information he needed on the Lincoln County website. Mark said he utilized individually powered electronics to stay connected online and stressed the importance of always being prepared for emergency situations.
“We definitely learned some lessons,” Mark said. “The technology is out there to be connected. If you felt you were not getting the information you needed, you can learn how to connect and I encourage people to try to do that.”
The City of Lincoln City is now shifting into the recovery phase, as local crews begin examining structure loss. Although most of the damage occurred outside of City limits and will be managed by Lincoln County, Lincoln City will be looking for opportunities to get involved in the rebuilding process.
“We the City would be more than willing to participate and assist,” Mayor Dick Anderson said. “That kind of cooperation is already there and will continue through this. It’s not in the City, but a big part of our workforce is adversely affected, so we want to make sure they’re accommodated, to support them and the City as a whole.”