Ketchikan’s City Council is set to discuss disbanding its emergency operations center — or EOC — which coordinates the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the council’s May 6 meeting, Council Members Abby Bradberry and Riley Gass questioned the ongoing need for the EOC. Council Member Judy Zenge asked that the council discuss it at its next meeting, set for Thursday.
But in the two weeks since, community spread and test positivity have set new records in Ketchikan. The EOC raised its pandemic risk metric to its highest level amid what it’s calling the community’s worst outbreak to date, prompting some businesses to close their doors and leading organizers to cancel or scale back community events. The community’s first scheduled cruise ship since 2019 skipped a stop in Ketchikan because of the outbreak.
Ketchikan’s emergency manager, Abner Hoage — part of the two-person team that leads the EOC — says that whenever the community’s emergency response system is activated, the end goal is to demobilize it as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“I’m as ready probably as anyone for the EOC to stand down and for COVID to be over. But on the other hand, we want to make sure that we’re providing what the community needs, in order to get through this without significant damages from it, you know, whether that be death or hospital system or economic — all those things play into decisions that we make,” Hoage told KRBD Tuesday.
The EOC coordinates local officials across the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Over the past 15 months, it has stockpiled and distributed supplies of personal protective equipment and testing kits, developed safety protocols, encouraged vaccinations and, has been a clearinghouse for COVID-19 information.
Ketchikan’s assistant city manager points out that ending the community’s emergency declaration could also hamper the community’s ability to seek federal money for some pandemic control measures, like the publicly-run drive-up testing site in downtown Ketchikan.
In a memo, Hoage called a discussion of demobilizing the EOC amidst the recent spike, “a little strange.” But he says he’s open to a conversation about what milestones the community should reach before the EOC disbands.
Ketchikan’s City Council is set to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday. The city council is meeting via videoconference in light of the increased pandemic risk. . It’s broadcast on local cable channels and live-streamed at the city’s website. Members of the public can weigh in by calling 228-5658 prior to the meeting. Written comments can also be emailed to the clerk’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the city’s emergency declaration gives the community’s emergency operations center its authority. The city says the EOC is able to operate without an active emergency declaration.