October 22, 2019

Commissioner Stegmann and Sen. Jeff Merkley meet local emergency managers at a recent East County Issues forum.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley highlighted federal investments in wildfire prevention, earthquake readiness and infrastructure that he’s been working to secure in Congress. In an appearance in east Multnomah County earlier this month, he highlighted how community members also play a critical role in disaster preparedness.

“We call it the East County way,’’ Merkley told about 80 people at the October East County Forum meeting in Gresham. “Everyone needs to do what they can in advance to prepare for an emergency.’’

Oregon’s junior senator, who still lives in the David Douglas School District, spoke at the October forum hosted by Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann. Every month, Commissioner Stegmann convenes the forum to share information and coordinate policies and programs for the region between 82nd Avenue in Portland east to the Sandy River.

Merkley recalled that as a younger legislator in Salem, he was very concerned about East County being ignored, and did much of the same organizing as Stegmann around public safety and housing affordability, “So, well done!’’ he said to Stegmann.

The Oct. 3 meeting featured presentations by Chris Voss, Director of Multnomah County Emergency Management,  Kelle Landavazo, Emergency Manager for the City of Gresham and Carolina Gomez, Director of Integrated Facilities Services & Safety at Home Forward.  You can watch the full presentation here.

The gathering gave Merkley a chance to highlight what he is advancing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which last month, passed a sweeping preparedness bill. The next step for the bill is a full Senate vote, and eventually merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.

Among the appropriations was plans to prevent wildfires.“We need to really thin our forest so they’re much more like a second-growth natural forest to provide resistance to the fires we’ve seen in Oregon,’’ Merkley said. He said the federal government is still spending triple the amount on fire suppression than prevention. “And if we don’t have more resilient forests on the front end, we’ll have more fires on the back end. And it’s a cycle that’s hard to break.’’

Having spent several weeks at the Multnomah County Emergency Operations Center during the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, Commissioner Stegmann remarked, “We saw community partners and agencies coming together in response seamlessly, there must be policy solutions and investments to make that easier when, not if, we face our next natural disaster.”

The bill also includes an early warning earthquake system called “Shake Alert’’ to give communities the earliest possible information about a trembler. He’d also like to see communities have maps so residents can actually see where their fault zones are.

A third area of focus is the Fixing Americans Surface Transportation Act, which marks $1 billion to prepare infrastructure against disasters. This includes everything from moving schools in tsunami and flood zones to higher ground to strapping down homes in quake-prone areas like Multnomah County.

But he said, one can’t underestimate that each of us has to prepare for the worst.

“The first person to check on you in a disaster isn’t going to be emergency responders, it’s your neighbor,’’ and “between your neighborhood organization, this is where the work gets done.’’

Held monthly, the East County Issue Forum brings together partners and community members to discuss priorities facing east Multnomah County.  While October’s conversation was focused on local and regional efforts to build emergency resilience and things neighbors and organizations can do to prepare, future topics cover education, service access, economic development, transportation, parks and green space.  The forum also serves as a networking and information hub for multi-sector efforts in East County. To sign up for updates, please contact Commissioner Stegmann’s office at District4@multco.us