King County

Background Information

King County is located on the shores of Puget Sound in western Washington. With a population of over two million, it is the most populous county in the state and houses Seattle, the state’s most populous city. The region’s economy is shaped by the numerous Fortune 500 companies based in the area—including prominent information and technology corporations such as Microsoft and Amazon—and the Port of Seattle, the eighth-largest U.S. port in terms of container traffic.

The region’s vibrant economy, culture, and proximity to popular outdoor recreation areas continues to attract new residents. As a result, Seattle in particular struggles with intense rush-hour traffic congestion and very high housing prices.

King County is already contending with negative impacts from a changing climate, including sea level rise, increased flood risk, and changes in precipitation. Projected reductions in mountain snowpack are of particular consequence for the region’s economy and residents, as snowmelt is a key source of drinking water and hydroelectric power.

Team Summary

The King County team represents an effort to build collaboration on resilience both across county government departments and between government and community organizations in order to advance equitable, inclusive, and coordinated climate action. County government team members hail from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Community and Human Services, and the Department of Public Health. They are joined by representatives of Rainier Beach Action Coalition, a grassroots community development coalition devoted to implementing community responsive renewal and development.

Promising Practices

  • King County is a leader in ambitious climate and resilience work, particularly in their incorporation of the principles of inclusivity and equity, ensuring those most vulnerable to climate change and other shocks and stresses are not left behind.
  • Communities of Opportunity (COO) is a partnership formed in 2014 by King County, the Seattle Foundation, and communities who share a future vision that encompasses the principles of equity, climate resilience, healthy communities, and inclusive economic mobility. COO seeks to coordinate new and existing initiatives in specific geographic areas to address the root causes of inequities. Communities are located in the portion of the county with the most disparate health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • In October 2014, Seattle Foundation and King County announced a first round of COO investments focusing on improving equity through policy and systems level work that engages or is led by affected communities. More than $915,000 in grants was awarded to 12 organizations. Communities of Opportunity 2016 Systems and Policy Change Grants awarded $1,226,000 to 18 local efforts leading systems and policy change work in King County.
  • King County convenes an interdepartmental Climate Action Team that includes the Departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Parks, Facilities Management, Public Health, and others. This team explores ways to support climate resilience infrastructure, and communities, reflecting goals articulated in the county’s Strategic Climate Action Plan, Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan, Communities of Opportunity logic model, Climate and Health Blueprint, and Emergency Management Recovery Plan.

Key Challenges

  • Uniting climate and health resilience, emergency management, economic resilience, and community resilience under a cohesive approach; currently, teams across the county and beyond county government are working separately on different aspects of resilience.
  • Updating the King County Office of Emergency Management’s disaster recovery plan for the next 10 years, and pairing it with a community resilience plan that prepares communities to handle disasters
  • Looking upstream at community resilience and addressing the root causes of vulnerability—such as economic hardship and political marginalization—by elevating existing community leadership through initiatives like COO.