Looking at successes of Cascadia Rising and preparing for our next big exercise
Two years ago this week, Cascadia Rising was our region’s biggest exercise testing our resilience and capability in the face a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami along the Washington and Oregon coast. Thousands of people, including military personnel, participated in the joint response during the summer of 2016, which included local, state and federal agencies in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
Today, the Washington Emergency Management Division is doing initial planning for another large-scale exercise four years from now.
“The 2022 exercise will test the response of all four northwestern states (WA, AK, OR, ID) as well as British Columbia, FEMA, Public Safety Canada and U.S. Northern Command,” said Lit Dudley, the Exercise & Training Section Manager at the state Emergency Management Division.
Dudley said the new exercise will hope to incorporate new findings and steps crafted by the Resilient Washington Subcabinet, created by Gov. Jay Inslee after the first Cascadia Rising.
In addition, Dudley notes that other exercises between now and 2022 will also explore different kinds of responses. For instance, in August, at the state and federal level, the state will exercise a widespread, grid blackout with Commerce (Energy Division) and FEMA.
“We are planning several ramp-up workshops in preparation for a 2022 Cascadia Rising,” Dudley said. “Workshops will focus on geological hazards, their science and how to prepare communities to respond. Other workshops will focus on planning for public safety, such as mass care and medical surge and for catastrophic damage to and restoration of major infrastructure, including communications, transportation and energy.”
One of the biggest items to come out of the After Action Report from Cascadia Rising was the need to craft a new preparedness message. For years, the state was telling residents to be prepared for at least 72 hours. That message has now been changed to two weeks because the exercise clearly showed that it will take days, not hours, for the public to get help.
Preparedness and outreach staff have been working with local officials to craft better messaging to get the public “2 Weeks Ready.” Some communities such as Clallam County are telling their residents to be prepared even longer.
In addition, the state has now completed a bulk fuels contract to get fuel to first responders and emergency crews as quickly as possible following a disaster. The state also recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with a consortium of volunteer engineers, architects and building officials who will be called on in a disaster to help determine what buildings are safe to re-enter following a major earthquake.
The state has revised its situational awareness procedures and streamlined the way agencies talk to each other. Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager for Washington Emergency Management Division, notes that this year the state Legislature awarded $200,000 to the Department of Commerce for an unreinforced masonry initiative and $1.2 million to the state Department of Natural Resources for seismic safety assessments of schools.
Officials from EMD have also been meeting with their counterparts in New Zealand on a regular basis, comparing exercises and lessons learned in the wake of large earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2010 and 2011.
“We’re hoping to incorporate some of the things they’ve learned through their actual earthquake experience as well as their tsunami exercise into the next exercise we do,” said state earthquake program coordinator Brian Terbush.
Dixon said he recently accompanied New Zealand officials to a trip to Japan to get more information about earthquake early warning systems that our state hopes to roll out in the next few years. The rollout will include public education efforts so people will know what to do when an alert gets sent to their phone.
Work is also being done to increase tsunami awareness on the coast, including conducting more public workshops and educating city officials about the need for more tsunami vertical evacuation structures, where the public can go to safety when a tsunami hits.