While it appears I last posted an entry Dec 7, 2007, that is not quite accurate, as I began trying to chronicle the media reports as they unfolded, by collecting them and creating a special page for the articles here – titled Storm of the Century, Pacific Northwest, December 2007. The second week after the storm, on December 11, Pacific County held a debriefing meeting calling together all of the emergency, disaster responders across the entire county. It was a public meeting, and I saw an announcement of the meeting in Oregon newspaper, which I then tracked down to find Pacific County Commissioners website, made contact by email indicating if it was public meeting, I wanted to attend and also input. I was advised it was public meeting, yes, but intended for debriefing and time wouldn’t permit public comments. I invited my mother to attend with me, and I think the two of us were the only ‘public’ to attend the meeting.
I took notes, and continued adding comments to the original story of my report of our experience that was already at Washblog. For more detail of how those weeks between the storm and now unfolded, visit and read the comments at Washblog. My husband, Arthur, during this time was fully engaged as bi-lingual case manager with DSHS and was deployed to Grays Harbor CSO to help with delivery of emergency/disaster related DSHS programs. Grays Harbor and Lewis Counties were declared FEMA disaster counties, and that specification permitted and authorized the DSHS programs . He was putting in 14 hour days for an entire week, and the applications numbered in the thousands, a thousand and more a day. The following week Pacific, Mason and Thurston counties were declared FEMA disaster counties. He was putting in the hours at his own CSO in South Bend in Pacific County.
During this time period, I had taken my vehicle into Steve’s Auto for repairs, and repairs were clearly needed, but he had to order parts which were delayed in arriving due in part to after the storm clean up delaying normal operations. We were without vehicle for almost three weeks, until after Christmas, so for my mother and I, it meant staying pretty close to home most of that time and cabin fever set in from time to time.
I had wanted and tried to share at the Dec 11 county debriefing meeting, something of the Bay Center experience of the storm and Sheriff Didion seemed to want to discourage me from sharing, citing that there would be public community meetings in January 2008. Not much deterred, I wanted to make sure some report from Bay Center became part of the county record, as to date I had heard nothing from or about Bay Center, and wondered why volunteer fire department, or Bay Center Community Association or someone from Bay Center was not representing on this county debriefing meeting.
I actually don’t know if anyone from Bay Center was invited to participate in the debriefing meeting and perhaps declined to come, or if representation of Bay Center community is met via South Bend representation, ie, South Bend Fire Department, South Bend Police. But if that is the case, it seemed odd to me that the small community of Nemah was represented at this meeting, and reported their experience as much like what we experienced in Bay Center – isolation and no information and a seeming failure of communications across the county. So I insisted on making a bit of a report as a member of Bay Center Community Association, to report on actions taken by the Bay Center Store.
Earlier in the meeting, there had been a go around of introductions, and I had introduced as resident of Bay Center, public, and contributing editor of Washblog. Perhaps Sheriff Didion saw me more as contributing editor of Washblog, and less as active resident concerned about the disaster response to and in my community of Bay Center. After about three attempts to explain I wanted to report on the response in Bay Center, Sheriff Didion permitted me to speak, whereby I gave a very brief report of the actions of the staff of the Bay Center Store in the absence of any other contact or communication in, to or out of Bay Center. It seemed the representatives in the meeting listened politely, but I felt a bit unrecognized and that perhaps I had not made my intentions clear – wanting something of representation from the community of Bay Center at this meeting. Later, when the meeting was concluded, Sheriff Didion did seek me out and apologize saying he meant no disrespect. I said I understood what he was trying to facilitate and the intention of the meeting, and having years of experiences with business meetings, know he was keeping meeting on track and did a good job.
So, I am still puzzled, then, about the coming together of my community in Bay Center to meet to discuss things of this nature. Actually the Bay Center Community Association did have it’s monthly meeting the week after the county debrief meeting, and I did not attend – other things came up. I did query in email to the secretary who took notes of that meeting, inquiring if there had been discussion of the storm, community preparedness, county response. She said that had not been part of the discussion, and more the meeting settled an administrative issue about a financial matter as to who was to be signed onto the Association’s check book. I responded that I was disappointed the storm had not come up for discussion.
On another day, when my mother and I went out to walk the dogs and check the mail, I was having discussion about the storm, the community response, the county response and talking about the county debriefing meeting I had attended. Several from the town coming in to check their mail entered into discussion, and we had a bit of an informal town hall type meeting right there in the post office. Later at the town Christmas pageant, I had another opportunity to talk to some from the community about the storm, the response, including the wife of one of our own who is National Guard and participated as National Guard deployed to help in Pacific County.
About 2 weeks after the storm, I wrote letters to the editor that I sent to Pacific County Press, Chinook Observer and Willapa Harbor Herald to compliment the staff of the Bay Center Store, the community, the work of all who participated across the county in responded, while also indicating Pacific County could do better. The letters were long, and I had thought they would not be published, or if published, would be edited for length. Surprisingly both Pacific County Press and Chinook Observer printed my letter in it’s entirety; Pacific County Press making it an article, Chinook Observer placing it in center of the many other letters to the editor they received commenting on the storm and response of Pacific County. (text here of my published letter to editor). Willapa Harbor Herald has yet to publish anything I or Arthur have submitted to their paper as letter to editor. Perhaps we are not following their particular established protocol, as we have sent ltte by email, and perhaps they don’t take email ltte. Something for me to check into another time, perhaps I will phone them to learn why they don’t publish the ltte he and I have sent.
Wanting to ensure that when Pacific County was declared a FEMA disaster county, that the community of Bay Center understood they could then be eligible for the DSHS disaster related food program, Arthur drafted a flyer that I could post at the Bay Center Post Office. I sent a copy of his flyer as well to Stephanie Fritts, PCEMA (Pacific County Emergency Management) and I’m glad I did as it became one of the notifications that were shared around the county (including in the Willapa Harbor Herald – h0w ironic).
We finished up the holidays with pleasantries the Saturday before Christmas. Arthur’s daughter payed us an overnight visit and we took her and my mother to Astoria, Oregon for a high tea; a Christmas Tea at the Windsor House of Tea. It was charming. There had been no opportunity to do any kind of Christmas shopping at all, and this was our one day to do a bit of gift buying, so we did a hurried shopping, and later that evening exchanged gifts. On Christmas Eve, we attended Christmas Eve worship services at our church, St John’s Episcopal in South Bend, WA. It wasn’t until Friday of Christmas week that I got my vehicle back, and by then it was time to take my mother back to her home in Tacoma.
A most different and unusual Christmas holiday, but very much neighbors helping neighbors and my husband had the opportunity to be a bit of Father Christmas in a real kind of way to people who lost so much due to the storm, and at the very least he was able to provide comfort, humor helping people to chuckle a bit, even in the face of losing so much as he approved application after application. It wasn’t he alone, and there were DSHS case managers, supervisors, administrators, directors from across the state putting in the long hours over the Christmas holiday season to help people in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, Mason and Thurston counties during the disaster of the storm of December 1 -2, 2007.
I am trying to find ways to put away the affect the storm has had on me emotionally, as life move on, and we transition from the end of last year into the new year. It isn’t so easy to let it go, and while I know we were not nearly so adversely affected as many were, somehow, I have experienced this storm as an intrusion into reality as not only a personal wake up call for how we will need to adjust our lives while we remain living in this community and county, but also it needs to be a wake up call of bigger proportion than just us, just this community, just this county, just this state. We experienced the best of neighbors helping neighbors and some of the hallmarks of rugged individualism that comprise the people in this region, but we also experienced, or I experienced what I perceive as a glimpse into the future as global warming marches onward. No matter the cause, no matter the diversity of reactions, it sure seems to me that global warming won’t be waiting for humans to make up their minds if it is a real phenomenon or not, but that nature will respond to whatever is and has been affecting it irrespective of whether humans want to react to it proactively or not.
I remember once when I was a supervisor of a team of case managers, a training exercise I attended, an exercise in which we were all to pretend we were in a submarine which was unable to surface and the oxygen was limited. Our instructions were that we had xx amount of oxygen, and our job was to survive xx number of minutes on the air we had without verbally speaking to one another. I was stunned that the participants in this exercise were following the instructions and were not verbalizing, but motioning by charades how to share the oxygen. I deliberately broke with the rules, and spoke aloud, saying this is ridiculous, we are about to run out of air, and will drown in this submarine, and we need to talk to make a plan quickly, and yet we are ‘following instructions’ to not talk aloud?! We are about to die and need to work together to avoid that outcome. Unfortunately for me and the participants I was not convincing, or persuasive, so the miming and pantomine and charade acting continued, and when time was called for the exercise, sure enough, our group was dead – had died.
The lesson I took from that is that while I may well have been ‘right’ in this instance, but without stronger skills of persuasion, I was unable to convince my group of my viewpoint, mission, and purpose, so I perished with the group. The actions of the team, in this instance, put me in more peril than trusting my own instincts, yet I needed the team to avoid perishing. In some ways, it feels like that exercise was a bit of the reality we experienced here in Pacific County this past month – the month of the storm of the century.