The Emergency Management Act establishes a comprehensive program of emergency management in the state, which is administered by the Military Department (Department) under the direction of the state's Adjutant General. The Adjutant General is responsible for developing a comprehensive emergency plan for the state. Each political subdivision—county, city, or town—of the state must establish or jointly create a local organization for carrying out emergency management functions in accordance with the state comprehensive emergency management plan. In the event of a disaster beyond local control, the Governor, through the Adjutant General, may assume operational control over all or any part of emergency management functions in the state.
The Adjutant General is required to administer a state program for emergency assistance to individuals who are victims of a natural disaster. Natural disasters include events that demand immediate action to protect public health or to provide relief to affected communities, as well as events that reach such a degree of destructiveness as to warrant the governor proclaiming a state of emergency. The emergency assistance program may include grants, loans, gifts of services, equipment, supplies, or funds to individuals who need assistance and who meet certain eligibility standards. Funds from the Disaster Response Account in the state treasury may be used for support of state agency and local government disaster response and recovery efforts.
Subject to appropriations, the Department must develop and implement an Extreme Weather Response Grant Program for the purpose of assisting political subdivisions and federally recognized tribes with the costs of responding to community needs during periods of extremely hot or cold weather, or in situations of severe poor air quality from wildfire smoke. The Department may adopt rules to administer the program.
The Department may award grants to political subdivisions and federally recognized tribes in geographic areas where vulnerable populations face combined, multiple environmental harms and health impacts as determined by the Department. Grants may be awarded for cost-reimbursement if the costs were incurred for the benefit of vulnerable populations by communities with a demonstrated lack of local resources to address community needs. Funds from the Disaster Response Account may be used to award grants as part of the extreme weather response grant program.
Costs associated with the following activities are eligible for reimbursement:
PRO: In 2021, over 100 Washingtonians died in one week due to extreme heat. There were over 1000 lives lost that summer in the Pacific Northwest due to heat. Our children were kept inside for several days due to wildfire smoke, and we are often calling upon our Washington National Guard to assist with wildfires. These types of weather events are becoming more frequent and incumbent upon us to assist our small communities across the state to ensure they are able to help their most vulnerable citizens. Of our 281 cities, 57% are smaller than 5000 population. As we see an increase in extreme weather events, it puts more pressure on these small communities to respond. Whether it is extreme hot or cold, these communities do not have the necessary resources to respond. Small communities are relying on charity. This bill is a step in the right direction to helping alleviate the burden on communities. We are not immune to extreme heat in this state and ensuring that there are cooling and warming centers is critical to health and public safety. Local emergency managers have identified funding as a central barrier to providing the resources needed during extreme weather events. Currently, the county offers no funding for cold-weather shelters. This means they are staffed by volunteers who are not trained or prepared for emergencies and may not have consistent availability. There are no funds for blankets, food, and cots. The needs of the community seem to be growing and becoming more complex. We are relying on charity for a necessary service.
PRO: Due to the nature of disaster, it's impossible to forecast the exact amount of shelter space needed, but the shelter space number and the amount in the fiscal note is appropriate. Climate change is placing greater demand on public resources and will continue to negatively impact our communities.
Extreme weather events impact the operations and resources for state agencies. For example, Pierce Transit cannot provide the warming buses needed for the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management due to staff shortages. This also means the agency has to utilize an operator who would otherwise be dragging a route. The grant would help local jurisdictions who provide these resources during extreme weather events.
Planning for sheltering where people can take and stay with their pets reduces risks to public safety. This bill includes the consideration for pets. The inclusion would help ensure efficient use of the funds and support broad community access to and utilization of the facilities.