Population Density Amplifies Disaster Risks

Some actions causes reactions in other areas.

There is a strong push to add more housing density to our western Washington communities. The lack of affordable housing is being driven by significant population growth in the region and a declining housing stock due to a lack of building sites for homes and apartments. This even with the addition of 38,000 housing units in Seattle alone. 

How much growth? In the last 10 years, Seattle's population has grown by 22 percent, fueled primarily by the ballooning of technology companies and jobs in the area. Commute times have also increased 70 percent because people are fleeing Seattle and King County for cheaper counties to the north and south. 

One of the solutions for improving the quality of life is to create more housing density around transit corridors. This is being done, but not at a rate to keep up with growth. Many, if not all, suburban cities eschew apartment complexes in favor of single family homes. Home prices have gone up 58 percent in the last decade.

All of the above makes sense — BUT just be aware that with density comes more vulnerability as you pack more people into less space. Does that one negative negate the measures being taken to improve the quality of life on a daily basis — I think not. However, the increasing risks posed by density are not even being considered. Most likely the police and fire resources in western Washington communities have not kept pace with the population growth in the region — for everyday emergencies, let alone disasters.

Choices have consequences, but people have to become aware of what the new risks are. Plus, due to "other factors," the Seattle Police Department has had 46 officers transfer out to other regional departments because they don't feel valued where they are. Instead of gaining ground, that department is falling further behind the growth battle.  

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.