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Linking Planning Efforts Across Jurisdictions: Everyone Has a Role in Hazard Mitigation

Challenge

To qualify for disaster-related federal grants under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Snohomish County needs to maintain and update their Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The plan covers several jurisdictions. Naturally there are some competing interests, potential for duplication of efforts, and different timing requirements involved with this process.

About the Plan

Jurisdiction: Snohomish County, WA

Population: 814,901

Plan Type: Multiple Jurisdictions

Approval Date: September 2015

Expiration Date: September 2020

Solution

With a long history of proactive and strong countywide partnerships, Snohomish County prepared a well-integrated plan, one of the most extensive in the western United States. The planning process took over 17 months and generated a plan that identified hundreds of projects that will be implemented by over 40 local governments. Several of the planning partners involved with the plan’s update have worked together for over 25 years on joint planning efforts through the Growth Management Act and other planning initiatives throughout the state. Plan integration continues to be a clear objective in the county’s hazard mitigation plan.

The Planning Team consisted of a diverse group representing public, private, and not for profit, community-based organizations. Plan integration came somewhat naturally to these groups that share a common vulnerability to natural hazards with impacts beyond jurisdictional boundaries. Snohomish County was able to reduce redundancy, build consensus, and support consistency by working together with the municipal, special purpose district, and Tribal planners to update the plan.

Planning partners benefited from shared resources such as staff time, equipment, and facilities, and by sharing best available information. For instance, the Department of Natural Resources shared wildfire and climate change data with the Planning Team that included several county department representatives. The state wildfire maps depicted the risk across the county but these were high-level documents. More detail was needed in the plan to focus on resilience efforts in communities within the county. Through coordination with other state departments, the planning team obtained updated population and ground soil information to create a new wildfire risk model which forms the basis for the Community Wildfire Protection Plans. Another positive outcome seen by the county is that while new growth has occurred, the natural hazard risk does not appear to have increased. In particular, the county attributes this to smarter development decisions that were facilitated by linking hazard mitigation with the State Growth Management Act.

In Snohomish County, legal plans such as the Comprehensive Plan, Capital Improvements Plan, Critical Areas Ordinances, and Shoreline Master Plan must include sections of the plan that strengthen their mission. There is a section in the Snohomish County Hazard Mitigation Plan that details the expectations of the planning partners for this effort. Partners are required to perform a “consistency review” of all technical studies, plans, and ordinances specific to hazards identified within the planning area. Implementing a “consistency review” across the board is a big step in identifying any misconnections and getting all the planning partners on the same page to ensure the plans complement and support one another so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.

During the plan update process, the county experienced a federal landslide disaster. This crisis shook up the Planning Team because the staff members changed due to deployments and other events. This would have resulted in a major setback and delay, but because there were several planning partners already invested, the Planning Team was able to maintain congruency. In addition, the County Department of Emergency Management took this devastating opportunity to raise public awareness about the natural hazard risks that affect various portions of the county. This outcome paints a real-life picture of the “stronger together” adage.

Key Takeaways

The infusion of hazard mitigation objectives into other planning efforts across the county has increased the span of partners and resulted in stronger plans that will better address natural hazard risks across planning disciplines.

  • “Collaboration paves the way for moving forward.” - Joel Freudenthal, Yakima County/Floodplains by Design video.
  • Resources were pooled to achieve a common vision for the community at large.
  • When planning partners are brought together by a common vulnerability, it results in cascading benefits on other planning efforts within the region.
  • A history of strong partnerships and cross-discipline integration has resulted in several ongoing and completed mitigation projects across various planning initiatives.
  • Annual progress reporting provided an opportunity to identify and coordinate available grant funding opportunities, which is important for large multi-jurisdictional efforts.

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Last updated January 15, 2021