Supes revise rules on county purchases; experts address tsunami readiness in light of recent earthquake

The Humboldt County board of supervisors unanimously voted last Tuesday on a uniform purchasing policy, approving new rules on how the county spends taxpayer dollars.

County administrative services manager Karen Clower told the board that the new policy would make county purchases "more efficient" by consolidating and updating several previously adopted policies.

"We feel that the adoption of a purchasing policy will benefit the public by establishing clear guidelines for county departments, and therefore create more efficient processes that will expedite the purchasing of goods and services while ensuring accountability for the expenditure of taxpayer funds," Clower said.

The policy would also update two policies relating to requests for hiring private consultants and contractors that have not been changed since they were adopted over 20 years ago. Clower said one of the changes would shift some of the "large burden on the board" to the county purchasing agent for issuing requests for proposals used to find the best price for county services.

For small value county purchases, the policy would increase the county's spending threshold from $500 to $1,000 in order to reduce staff time used for oversight and bidding procedures.

An ordinance required to implement this change into the policy was unanimously approved by the board during the Tuesday meeting.

Second District supervisor Estelle Fennell said that the new policy will address the county's goal to increase efficiency of interdepartmental coordination.

"If we didn't do this, what we'd have is an outdated, confusing and incomplete policy," Fennell said. "So I think we're doing exactly what we've been talking about doing, which is streamlining and getting things clearer for staff so departments can work together."

Near the start of the meeting, the board was given a presentation from several Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group representatives on tsunami preparedness week. The majority of the presentation focused on the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled the North Coast on March 9.

Humboldt County sheriff's office's Office of Emergency Services coordinator Dan Larkin said the purpose of the preparedness week, which lasts from March 23 to March 29, will go beyond testing warning systems.

"It's also a message to the public that they are responsible themselves to do something," he said. "Personal preparedness, organizational preparedness is the key to everything. They've got to do it now or they'll be hurting when it really happens."

Third District supervisor Mark Lovelace said the quake helped "to drive home the importance of preparedness."

Humboldt State University Department of Geology professor Lori Dengler said earthquakes are a "natural tsunami warning system," with longer quakes indicating larger magnitudes that are likely to cause a tsunami.

"Mother Nature could not have done a better job of showing what a large magnitude event is like," Dengler said. "... I would say that this was definitely an event that could have triggered a tsunami."

To prepare for tsunamis, Dengler recommended that local residents figure out if they live in a tsunami zone, have an emergency supply pack ready and have an exit strategy.

Dengler said the March 9 earthquake was on the Gorda plate, about 50 miles off the Eureka coast. While larger earthquakes on the Gorda plate can still cause a tsunami, Dengler said people along the coast should also be aware that they live directly above a fault that could cause some major damage, the Cascadia subduction zone.

"Everywhere in coastal Humboldt, you are no more than six to eight miles on top of the largest fault zone in the contiguous 48 states," she said.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or Follow him on