Keeping King County safe during flood season 

Only a month ago, the nation witnessed hurricane-induced flooding in many parts of the country. Our region doesn’t experience hurricanes, but we do experience flood conditions nearly every year due to another weather phenomenon that recently garnered headlines – atmospheric rivers.

When the rains fall and the rivers rise, King County’s flood response teams kick into gear. One of the first steps is the opening of the King County Flood Warning Center (FWC), which gathers, analyzes and distributes flood-related information to help people – including County employees – protect themselves, their families and their property.

The FWC is activated when any of the major rivers in the county reach specified flood levels, based on a four-phase warning system. Once the center is activated, response staff begin monitoring the flow and depth of the major rivers on a 24-hour basis. Staff members, working 12-hour shifts in the King Street Center-based FWC, answer calls from the public and emergency response agencies, coordinate patrols in the field and monitor river gages, weather data, dam operations and road closures. They disseminate information to the public through a variety of channels, including Facebook, text messages, emails and phone calls.

Pictured: From left to right Chris Ewing and Tasha Wang.

Phase 1 is an internal alert to King County staff. Phase 2 indicates minor flooding in some areas, triggering the opening of the FWC. Phase 3 indicates moderate flooding, and trained flood patrols are dispatched to monitor levees and other flood control facilities. Finally, Phase 4 indicates a major flood, with potential for emergency repairs, rescue operations and evacuations.

“These flood patrols are out inspecting levees around the clock, often in wet and stormy conditions, to ensure that the people who live and work behind them remain safe,” said John Koon, flood patrol coordinator in the Water and Land Resources Division.

If you live in a flood-prone neighborhood, it’s important to know what to do before, during and after a flood to reduce the risk of property damage or personal injury.

The calm before the storm is a great time for residents to know their flood hazard by accessing King County iMap, where you can view floodplain boundaries. Flood insurance? If you live in a floodplain, now is a good time to purchase insurance or review your policy and to stock up on an emergency kit.

In the midst of flooding, do not walk, wade or drive through flooded areas. Driving through floodwaters is the leading cause of flood-related deaths. Use resources such as the FWC or the County’s Flood Warning App to stay informed of water levels. Public safety is top priority.

After weathering the storm, be cautious of structural damage to your home or property. Professional services are available to examine gas leaks, electrical shorts and live wires. Document the high-water mark for future flood prevention.

FloodPatrolFor King County employees and residents who rely on mass transit to get to work, the King County Flood Warning App is a fantastic resource that provides real-time flooding information for the South Fork Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Raging, Cedar, Green and White rivers and Issaquah Creek.  The app is available for Andriod, iOS and Windows phones. Along with access to river flows and flood stages, users can see forecasts and real-time flood phases.

Efforts to protect people and property have earned King County a high rating from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System (CRS). King County’s high CRS rating is saving policyholders in unincorporated King County more than $1 million in flood insurance premiums – an average of $425 per policy.

“King County encourages people to reach out to the Flood Warning Center during flood events so that we can give them important information while there’s still time for them to make decisions,” said Ken Zweig, Flood Warning Center program manager.

To learn more about flood prevention, read How to prepare for flooding in King County. Flood Warning Center Information Line: 206-296-8200 or 800-945-9263.