Disasters and density dominated last week’s State of Missoula address as police and fire officials joined local politicians in addressing the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.
The speeches on emergency preparedness were greeted with gratitude and consensus, though the growth politics were more divisive. The two topics met only once when a member of the audience asked Missoula Fire Chief Bob Deeds about his department’s role in planning transportation infrastructure and what he thought of roundabouts.
Deeds gave a carefully considered, diplomatic answer but eventually came down against roundabouts because they can clog traffic and make it difficult to locate hydrants.
Deeds certainly provided the most vivid image of the afternoon when talking about how Sept. 11 has changed the way local agencies think about preparedness.
“If a 757 flew into the Wilma building or the Millennium building we would just be overwhelmed,” Deeds said. He added that since Sept. 11 his department has responded to 45 calls of suspicious white powdery substances. All have turned out negative.
Missoula Police Chief Bob Weaver said he considers Missoula vulnerable because of I-90 and the railroads, noting that a terrorist transporting dangerous weapons across the country could end up inadvertently attacking Missoula.
The fire department is capable of handling a disaster, Deeds said, but needs more money for personnel and training, not just new equipment. Deeds and his colleagues stressed that Missoula’s emergency response agencies work well together and are not plagued by turf battles or jurisdictional disputes.
“Emergency service providers in Missoula recognize that when you need help you really don’t care what color uniform shows up,” said Under Sheriff Mike McMeekin.
Mayor Mike Kadas and County Commissioner Jean Curtiss used their speeches to talk about how Missoula should grow in the coming years. Kadas pointed to regional and national growth trends to argue that Missoulians should not be apprehensive about embracing high-tech and service-based industries as the future of the local economy.
Kadas added that while suburban residential development springs up throughout the valley, it is important to balance it out with the type of high-density development that fosters community interaction. Dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods must offset suburbs, where one can only “get to know people through two windshields,” Kadas said.
When one audience member challenged Kadas for neglecting the needs of business, Kadas explained how his vision of growth management and economic development tie together.
“The key role of the city and county should be making available properly zoned land and appropriate infrastructure rather than going out and trying to lure people in with tax breaks.”