It has been months since all eyes in America were on the village of Kivalina, but while the focus may have shifted, the need to continue improvement on emergency plans remains ever-present.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and members of the Alaska National Guard, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Division of Homeland Security visited Kivalina last week to meet with community leaders, including the Northwest Arctic Borough's recently elected mayor, Clement Richards Sr., and his staff.
"The governor and I are working with local, borough, state, and federal resources to address the problems we find here in Kivalina," Mallott said in a statement following the visit last Thursday. "A permanent solution is being developed, but in the meantime we must ensure that these Alaskans are safe."
A team of local and statewide leaders discussed the risks Kivalina faces as later fall storms erode the narrow spit of land and ice that used to protect the community and that now arrives later and later.
Last fall, erosion threatened the village's airstrip and workers struggled to put massive sandbags in place, only to see the effort sink into the beach the next day. Local leaders also were frustrated by communications with state Department of Transportation officials, who control the allocation of funds for such extra work.
This latest meeting, in part, was organized to open the lines of communication, the lieutenant governor's office said.
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management's Mike O'Hare said officials are working with the village to refresh its emergency plans. Once those updated plans are in place, state and federal agencies will help provide training so the village's Incident Management Team will have the skills they need to help everyone evacuate safely. Drills are planned to practice the evacuation.
"We are fully committed to helping the people of Kivalina prepare for the very real challenges they face," said O'Hare. "With the community's resolve and a good suite of emergency response plans, I am confident Kivalina can protect its residents. Once these plans are in place, we can focus all efforts on strategic solutions, such as relocation of the community."
Past evacuation efforts, like the one held in 2007, were less organized. About 250 residents self-evacuated as storm surges threatened the community. But evacuating to higher ground in Arctic storm conditions with no place to seek shelter and no evacuation road constructed is not much of a plan, either. After that experience, many residents have said they will stay in place the next time.
But state officials say meetings like last week's, combined with increased awareness at the federal level and some funding allocated to the state for mitigating the impacts of erosion on communities that are threatened, are a step in the right direction.
This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing