Report: City needs plan for crises

Commission says overall response to Juneau's energy crisis was a 'success'

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2008

Juneau needs better plans to handle future crises more effectively, according to an early version of a report from the city's "Lessons Learned" commission.

The report gives high marks to city government and Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., the city's private electric utility, for their work after Juneau's main source of hydroelectric power went offline four months ago.

By most measures, the report said, the overall response was an "unqualified success."

The commission was formed by Mayor Bruce Botelho in response to the April avalanches that knocked down part of the Snettisham electric transmission line, taking away most of the city's access to hydropower.

AEL&P, the city's private electric utility, had to switch to costly diesel fuel, causing its residential rates to rise 447 percent for about a month and a half.

The city lowered its electric consumption by 40 percent, the city Assembly provided financial aid to lower-income citizens, and AEL&P restored the transmission line quickly, the report said.

But in the early moments after the avalanches, success "was achieved through individual efforts and talents of those in leadership positions, rather than a systems approach in crisis management that relies on preparedness, planning, coordination, and communications that is reinforced by training and practice through exercises."

The report called the city's loss of hydroelectric power a "sub-disaster emergency" - meaning that it disrupted Juneau residents' daily lives but didn't threaten life or property. It said the city government, along with relevant businesses and community organizations, need to prepare for similar potential "sub-disasters emergencies." They included disruptions in the barge service of the city's fuel and food supplies, damage to the Douglas Bridge, or lost airport service.

The report recommended the city come up with "incident management systems," which stress planning and communication, to deal with future potential crises.

"Incident management systems force individuals to periodically take a break from the action, regroup, meet together, and communicate," the report said. "Done well, incident command spreads the load, eliminates redundancies, and reinforces the core objectives for all responders."

City, state and federal authorities already have emergency plans in place for disasters that involve the potential loss of life and property.

The report also recommends that the city follow "with interest" AEL&P's efforts to bulk up the protection of the Snettisham transmission line. AEL&P is looking at building protective structures for the transmission line's towers as well as mitigating avalanches through explosives, the report said.

The report did not have firm answers as to why more eligible residents and businesses didn't apply for $3 million the city made available in financial aid. As of Aug. 5, only about 2,000 households had applied for assistance with their electric bills, according to the report. The city had earlier expanded its assistance program to include an estimated 6,000 households.

Additionally, no businesses applied for the low-interest loans the city made available to help with electric bills, the report said.

The three member commission, which worked with two emergency-response consultants, is scheduled to present its findings and take public comment before the city Assembly at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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