We at the National Weather Service in Boise, Idaho, strive to keep the citizens of Southwest Idaho and Southeast Oregon safe at all times. One of the ways we achieve this goal is by working closely with the Emergency Managers in each county we serve. In this edition of Sage Winds, we spoke to Crash Marusich, the Emergency Planner for Ada County.
NWS: Tell me about yourself and how you moved into the emergency management sector.
Crash: I’m from Arizona originally, where I was a Desert Guide for many years, and then became a Park Ranger. I really loved both of these jobs, but my family and I really wanted to move to the Boise area. I had a background in public speaking and community outreach, so the Emergency Management Department offered me this job 8 years ago and I took it! I didn’t know too much about the job when I first started, but I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s been a great crossover. I’m really glad I started out in community outreach – having to learn about emergency management and how to translate the information into layman’s terms. That has been very helpful.
I am now moving into more of a planning role at my office. I’ll be working with the responders more, which I’m very excited about. It’s an interesting new perspective. I’m moving from how do I get John Q. Public prepared properly for disaster, to how do all of these agencies work together to protect 400,000 people. This new shift has been exciting and I’m enjoying it. Actually, I received big news this week! I’m now a certified emergency manager with the International Association of Emergency Managers.
NWS: Hurrah! That’s great news! Congratulations.
Crash: Thanks. There are about 2,600 of us certified internationally. So, now I’ve gone from a certified Parks and Recreation professional to a certified Emergency Manager. My background has really helped me picture what is going on outside of the urban environment. It’s a good place to come from; I have a good understanding of where I want to go, especially in mitigation – how can we reduce the effects of these hazards, how can we build smarter homes, are there places we shouldn’t build, etc.
NWS: Would you describe the nature of your work for us?
Crash: I do mitigation and response planning for the county. We are also currently reviewing our standard operating procedures and emergency operations plans for the county. We want to make sure that our staff is capable of doing their job in any given emergency. We are also working on a wildfire mapping project. We’re going to get a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) into the foothills and we’re going to do some multispectral photography over the entire county. The goal is to clearly define the entire wildland-urban interface. This mapping will hopefully include a number of factors that will assist with both response and mitigation planning.
NWS: What has been the highest impact weather event for Ada County this season?
Crash: That would have to be when that wet thunderstorm hit on July 8th, where the North End and the Bench experienced areas of flooding. We just got a report from the Ada County Highway District detailing all of the calls they received and the responses they took. The storm drains were overwhelmed by the sudden volume, became clogged, and ended up flooding a lot of places where it normally wouldn’t have otherwise.
NWS: What year was it that the big wind event took place at the Ada County Fair?
Crash: August 2010. There was a microburst at the Fair; there quite a few minor injuries sustained due to the winds. A lot of the tents got whipped up and blown away. It was totally unexpected.
NWS: So, how did your office respond in these events?
Crash: We are a coordination and support agency. We try to get the community ready before the disaster so that we sustain as little damage as possible. We coordinate with agencies responding to an event, and after all of that, we plan for the “new normal.” We work in the background, always learning from each event so that we can respond more effectively next time.
NWS: So, when do you use the Emergency Operations Center?
Crash: During a major event we would have it up and running. We will open it as an exercise during the Western Idaho Fair this year. We also had it open for the Special Olympics that were held here in 2009. The National Weather Service was there giving daily morning briefings!
NWS: How does your office get in touch with the public other than through the media?
Crash: For now we have something called “ISAWS” (Idaho State Warning System) that the public needs to sign up for. Communication has been really hard ever since we started moving away from landline phones! There’s nothing linking cellphone numbers to an address, so if we wanted to evacuate a certain area, we would be hard pressed to do so solely using the phone as the main line of communication. We’re currently in the process of moving our County Mass Notification System to a program called “Code Red.” We just hired a new employee whose job will include working on getting our social media outlet established. Now, I do encourage everyone to own a NOAA Weather Alert Radio – that’ll alert you to that 3 AM warning that you probably wouldn’t see or heard anywhere otherwise. It includes all threats and all hazards. It’s a great resource.
NWS: Does the Spotter Network have an impact on the work your office does?
Crash: Yes. A lot of the damage reports that we get are from them through your office; it’s important to track what goes on and why. It helps immensely that you have this network set up and that we have such a great relationship with your office. The open communication that we can call on when needed is fabulous!
NWS: I know that we do a lot of collaborative work, such as our joint river mapping work, which is featured on our website.
Crash: Yes, that is a great example. Because of our work together, one can plot possible minor, moderate, or major flooding events on an Ada County map and see where the river would go. It’s a great resource for everyone.
NWS: Well Crash, that is all I have for you! Thank you for your time!
Crash: Thank you for having me.