COVID-19 GLOBAL PANDEMIC
In March of 2020, the City of Valdez stood up a Unified Command (UC) in response to the COVID-19 virus that was spreading across the world and in conjunction with the disaster declarations made at the federal, state, and local levels. The UC was comprised of the City of Valdez Incident Management Team, Providence Valdez Medical Center (representing local health care), Prince William Sound College (representing local education inclusive of Valdez City Schools), with support from our local health department. The primary objective of the Unified Command throughout the pandemic was to engage in collaborative strategies and tactics that minimized community spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm local health care capacities. Over the long-haul, this was largely accomplished while still keeping Valdez open-for-business and minimizing the restrictions placed upon residents and visitors.
The onset of 2021 represented a line of demarcation for COVID-19 in Valdez as UC partnered with our local Public Health Department to add another layer of protection for the community with available vaccines. Points of Dispensing (POD) for the vaccine were quickly made available to all in the community that desired one. Each POD exemplified the term "melting-pot" as a rich cross-section of the Valdez community was represented in its volunteers. In May of 2021, the formal UC structure demobilized and the city began to transition to a more conventional healthcare-based approach to the COVID-19 virus within the private sector, while still supported by the City of Valdez in many aspects.
Over the last year and a half, citizens, visitors, business owners, major stakeholders, and UC have exemplified what it means to be "Alaskans" - we are resilient, problem-solvers, and collaborative doers! Consequently, the effects of the COVID-19 virus in Valdez, to date, have been kept to a stark minimum in comparison with many other communities around the nation.
For more information on COVID-19 in Valdez go to: Valdez COVID-19 Unified Command
On July 7, 2020, the Valdez Glacier experienced a massive separation event that presents hazards to those choosing to recreate on the lake or on the glacier. To protect Valdez residents, tourists, and the increase of many Alaskans vacationing in their own state, the City of Valdez created a three-part video series to bring awareness to this event. To view, click on any of the following:
Safety Report Update Part One (orientation to the separation event)
Safety Report Update Part Two (a guide's perspective on the hazards)
Safety Report Update Part Three (equipment and safety plans)
On August 17, 2020, an enormous amount of glacier debris from the July 7th event, that was wedged near the east face of the glacier, evacuated to the center of the lake. Again, on June 15th, 2021, after the Valdez Glacier upper Ice Dam Lake annual outburst event, the new face of the glacier purged a significant amount of new ice toward the center of the lake. This represents an ongoing hazard both during the summer and winter, especially for those choosing to recreate in the area without any experience at the Valdez Glacier or the glacier lake.
Each year, the Valdez Glacier Lake, and the Glacier Stream, experience the effects of varying degrees of flooding due to annual accumulations of water that form in an upper ice dam lake. The ice dam lake is located approximately 4.5 miles up the Valdez Glacier (on its east side). Typically, in June of each year, water accumulated from rain and snow melt at the ice dam lake either flow over the surface of the glacier or escape using tunnels under the glacier's surface. The extent of flooding and erosion downstream varies from year to year. Additionally, the water level on the Valdez Glacier Lake during these events can fluctuate significantly and rapidly - causing instability in icebergs that were once grounded or are experiencing some form of disturbance to their center's of gravity. The City of Valdez partners with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) to study and monitor these events. To view a report on the ice dam lake, click here.
If you choose to recreate at the Valdez Glacier, remember this area is active and dynamically changing. Here are a few tips: recreate with experienced persons and/or local professional guide services, stay a safe distance from ice, have the proper equipment, and notify someone of your intentions in the area - cellular coverage is spotty at best - have alternative means of communication available and stick to a plan.
BARRY ARM LANDSLIDE - Barry Arm Fjord - PWS
The Barry Arm Landslide is a potential threat originating in the Barry Arm fjord approximately 30 miles northeast of Whittier, Alaska. Barry Glacier has retreated rapidly in the last few years, potentially undermining a 1.7 square mile section of the previously adjoining mountain face. Scientific efforts have been underway for some time now to evaluate the extent of the risk as well as to facilitate real-time warning. City of Valdez emergency management personnel are partnering with the National Tsunami Warning Center to provide additional education to Valdez residents on this hazard. In 2020, preliminary evaluations of a potential Barry Arm landslide indicate that up to 650,000,000 cubic yards (equating to approximately 500 Empire State Buildings) of mountain could rapidly enter the water. At that time, preliminary estimates showed that a 30' wave could reach shore near Whittier. In July of 2021, the office of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced that, due to ongoing studies such as seafloor mapping and other scientific methods to capture above water ground movement, the threat may be less severe than previously thought. However, the USGS asserted that waves could still reach hazardous heights up to 7'.
Despite the distance from the Barry Arm fjord, a maximum extent landslide in the Barry Arm could generate, smaller, unanticipated waves in Valdez, approximately 1.5 hours after the event is triggered. Furthermore, there would be unpredictable currents throughout the PWS lasting for an extended period of time. This presents a sliding-scale hazard for those recreating, commercial fishing, and engaging in other commercial enterprises between Valdez and the Barry Arm. Residents of Valdez that work and recreate in the PWS need to know that landslides can happen anywhere high-angle slopes meet the water. Always be conscious of your surroundings, unusual noises, waves, and currents.
In October of 2020, the City of Valdez hosted a virtual colloquium with representatives from numerous government agencies and scientists. These individuals graciously presented on the Barry Arm and answered questions from local stakeholders. The recording of that presentation experienced technical difficulties. However, the city's Emergency Manager connected the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen's Advisory Council (RCAC) with the Barry Arm working group to bring a similar presentation to a later RCAC board meeting; that presentation was successfully captured and can be viewed here. Scientists also presented on the Barry Arm Landslide at the June 2021 state Rural Resiliency Workshop hosted in Valdez. For information and updates on the Barry Arm Landslide click here.
The City of Valdez recently partnered with the Alaska Earthquake Center (AEC) at University of Alaska Fairbanks to create a new tsunami brochure. The brochure incorporates the latest science with respect to maximum tsunami inundation potential in Valdez and gives basic guidance to the reader. To see the brochure click here. This brochure was distributed to all of the RV parks and the hotels in the waterfront areas in June of 2021 and will be mailed to every PO Box holder in Valdez in the summer of 2021 as well. Because of the success of this pilot project, the AEC is now engaging other coastal communities to create similar brochures in their jurisdictions.
Additionally, the City of Valdez and the AEC are moving on to another pilot project that will provide more comprehensive information regarding tsunamis and local response and procedures to tsunamis. To learn if your residence or place of business is in the tsunami inundation zone, click here and then zoom in to desired locations. You can learn about inundation in that area by turning on or off filters - just click on "Inundation Extent" or "Water Depth" on the AEC site map of Valdez. The information found on AEC's site represents the most current available science on local tsunami inundation. Like most things, it serves as a guide (rather than an absolute) for making personal decisions as it relates to evacuation and planning. To view a 2019 presentation on tsunami hazards, made in Valdez by one of the scientists in this field from the AEC, Elena Suleimani, click here.
More to come
More to come
More to come
(last updated July 13, 2021)