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Saving People, Property — and Cows — in Tillamook Count

Coastal Oregon County Learns Value of Partnership with Federal Government

Applying reinvention principles developed over the last few years at the federal, state and local levels has reaped astonishing rewards for the people of Tillamook County, Oregon, according to County Commissioner Sue Cameron.

Cameron estimated that in the 1999 flood, county, state and federal governments avoided $50 million in flood damages compared to a similar flood in 1996. "The reasons are clear," she said. "The success came from a partnership of County officials, Senator Ron Wyden, state and federal agencies and citizens working together to reduce economic and emotional damage in Tillamook County caused by recurrent floods."

According to fellow Commissioner Gina Firman, in February, 1996 Tillamook County experienced a torrential flood which left the County devastated with $53 million in uncompensated losses, 700 dairy cows killed, families displaced, homes and businesses destroyed,. Federal costs to cover some damage reached $8 million. This was a disastrous blow for a county of 25,000, with an average per capita annual income of only $18,000.

Following the flood, County officials met with citizens and federal and state agencies to determine ways to prevent future disasters. Experienced with the partnership approach through her long-time involvement with a federal-state partnership called the Oregon Option, Commissioner Cameron contacted federal officials in Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) and proposed that all parties work together to achieve the results badly needed in the County.

Tillamook County was selected as a demonstration Community Federal Information Project, an initiative to increase local access to geographic information to support community decision-making for public safety, land use and other issues. The geographic information system (GIS) being developed by this project, with the support of the Federal Geographic Data Committee and NPR, helped the community select the sites for flood mitigation.

"What unfolded next was a textbook example of a performance partnership," said Cameron. She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency's innovative approach to build Disaster Resistant communities through Project Impact was a focal point that helped mobilize the community.

"With the assistance of Senator Ron Wyden, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then stepped up to the plate with an offer of temporary flood mitigation in the rivers through their Advance Measures Program," explained Commissioner Firman. "And the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding to elevate 55 homes and 14 businesses; we elevated the whole town of Nehalem," she said. "Five cow pads were also constructed to rescue stranded cows during flooding."

And the next flood came: on Thanksgiving Day, 1999 9.1 inches of rain fell once again in 48 hours, mirroring the 1996 deluge. This time, however, the partners were ready. "Damages were reduced by 96 percent, and the people of the County were overjoyed that not a single cow died," Firman said. It was the holiday shopping season, and because more merchants had more warning, they were able to save their merchandise and dramatically reduce business losses." She added, "not one elevated home was flooded."

The Tillamook County team — with its many partners — received Vice President Gore’s Hammer Award on June 26, 2000, along with teams from five other communities who demonstrated the use of GIS.

"Our County is sold on partnerships," said Cameron. "We're all very much believers in reinventing government and the good that can come from the partnership approach."

Related Resources

Geographic Information System

GIS software products can turn raw data about populations, highways, biological resources, disease, the environment, and crime statistics into understandable maps or displays that can support community planning. An example is where to develop flood control and where to protect specific property, as in Tillamook County.

Tillamook's GIS

National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Hammer Award Speech: Mapping the Way to the 21st Century

July 2000

Adapted from a March 6, 2000, press release
Contact Commissioners Sue Cameron and Gina Firman
(503) 842-3403

Access America Online Magazine Partners
Chief Information Officers Council
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Federal Communicators Network