Alaska needs a statewide avalanche forecasting system

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I commend the city of Juneau for partially funding the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center so that it may operate, albeit on a limited basis, an avalanche forecasting system. I hope this marks an increasing commitment by both the city and the state to fund a fully operational avalanche center in and around Juneau.

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Alaska leads the country with avalanche-related deaths per year, and yet, of all the states that have an average of at least two deaths, Alaska is the only one that does not have a statewide forecasting system. The bottom line is that natural disasters such as avalanches happen, and when they do, the consequences range from mere property damage to death. The more serious events typically lead to inquiries, finger pointing and then voluminous reports about everything that could have been done to prevent the tragedy but didn't happen, largely because of a lack of foresight, unwillingness to invest in prevention, a failure to appreciate the risks, or plain incompetence. The tragic disasters wrought by Hurricane Katrina are illustrative.

Let's try something novel - let's get it right now, before a potential disaster strikes. The state even has a statute that purports to establish a statewide avalanche forecasting system. That obligation, however, is an unfunded mandate and has been since the early 1990s. It is therefore great to see that Juneau has picked up some of the slack. Let's hope it lights a spark under our state officials.

Demian A. Schane


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