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Puget Sound Area Emergency Responders Help With Rescue Efforts In Texas

photo courtesy of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management
An urban search and rescue team from the Puget Sound area headed to Texas in pickup trucks on Sunday

The flooding that has devastated Houston and other parts of Texas has demanded a response from across the country, including the Puget Sound region.

Local emergency responders, fire fighters, Coast Guard personnel and staff from the regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency are helping with rescue efforts.

Before sunrise on Sunday morning, 17 firefighters and emergency responders who are part of Washington Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue team for the Puget Sound region, left in pickup trucks headed for Texas.

“This team is specifically going to do water rescue,” said Sarah Foster, public information officer for Pierce County’s department of emergency management.

Pierce County is hosting the urban search and rescue team, which gets deployed by FEMA during catastrophes such as Hurricane Harvey.

“They took four flat-bottomed boats as well as two inflatable boats, and all the motors that go along with that,” she said. “They took swim fins, they took dive gear, they took anything that they’re going to need to get people out of the water.”

The team includes fire fighters from Renton, Tukwila, Tacoma and Seattle, along with personnel from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s Department of Emergency Management, she said.

Foster said a standard deployment lasts 14 days and they have more people on standby if needed.

Thirty FEMA employees who work in the agency’s Region X office in Bothell have also gone to Texas to assist with the response, said Sharon Loper, acting regional administrator for FEMA Region X.

They’re helping with everything from communications to logistics and finding shelter for people. The majority of them will stay for 90 days, she said.

As for what people from Washington state can do to help, Loper said they can donate to groups listed on the web site of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

Barb Graf, director of emergency management for the City of Seattle, said people should donate cash instead of clothes or other items.

“What doesn’t help is when people send things,” she said. “That becomes a whole other disaster in and of itself, but send cash through those non-profit organizations and they put help right into the hands of the people who need it.”

Graf said Hurricane Harvey is also a reminder that people in the Pacific Northwest also need to be prepared for a major earthquake.

“The key is to make sure you have a plan in place to help take care of your own family, check in with your neighbors and team up together to be ready to be on your own for potentially two weeks,” she said.

Seattle’s emergency management web page has tips on how to build a disaster kit, which should include water, medications, first aid supplies and non-perishable food. There’s also information on how to make your home more seismically safe.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.