Preparedness Exercise in Port Angeles builds on Cascadia Rising
Residents in Neah Bay, Port Angeles and Forks could be cut off – left without food, supplies and even key communication channels — should a deadly tsunami hit the area in the future.
That’s why it’s important for coastal residents to make emergency plans and prepare to be self-sustaining for two weeks. It’s also why the Washington National Guard tested response capabilities at Clallam County in June, working with emergency personnel to set up special supply drops and bringing emergency communication equipment to the region.
“Exercises like this are a great way to build relationships before a disaster happens and not during the response,” said Capt. Dominique Calata, force protection plans officer, Special Operations Detachment- Pacific.
Last year’s Cascadia Rising exercise not only tested the Washington National Guard’s capabilities to respond to a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake but provided opportunities for relationship building across the state. That continued this year as Guardsmen from the Special Operations Detachment – Pacific (SOD-P), Joint Force Headquarters and 194th Wing continued to strengthen relationships with first responders in Clallam County.
“We took part in a multifaceted exercise with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office to test our communications capabilities, food and supply distribution, search and rescue mission, moving the county Emergency Operations Center and most importantly continuing coordination with the first responders in the area,” Calata added.
SSG Elizabeth Mosbach & SGT Tobias Amos, F Co. 2-135 General Support Aviation Battalion, US Army Reserve, guide a pallet containing JISCC equipment onto a CH-47 Chinook in preparation for transport from Gray AAF to Port Angeles.
One of the major capabilities tested during the three day exercise was the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC), a system operated by both Air and Army National Guard personnel that make it possible to bring communication capabilities to remote locations. To add realism to the exercise, the JISCC was airlifted to the William Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles and set up along the runway.
“The unit was never really designed to be transported via air,” said Lt. Col. Mike Burk, deputy A6/J6, Joint Force Headquarters. “However, last year’s Cascadia Subduction Zone exercise identified a need to be able to fly the capability to locations where there may not be cleared roads.”
The JISCC was a critical part in the communication’s exercise portion of the June drill weekend, as citizen-soldiers from the SOD-P traveled to Forks and Neah Bay, two coastal cities on the Peninsula that could be hit the hardest after a deadly tsunami. The population of approximately 5,000 could be cut off completely due to downed phone towers and lines. The JISCC makes it possible for communication to continue via radio and internet signals when traditional communication channels have been eliminated due to a natural or manmade disaster.
During the 2014 and 2015 wildfires in central and Eastern Washington the capabilities of the JISCC were on display, providing critical communication resources to the fire fighters on multiple fires in remote areas.
“The JISCC has a very real world mission in Washington, especially in Eastern Washington where cell phone reception is not available and phone lines could be damaged by fire,” Burk said. “After a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake event, it would have the same capabilities.”
The SOD-P, who is assigned to Homeland Security Region Two (Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap County) coordinated the weekend’s event with Penny Linterman, Emergency Management Program Coordinator, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.
“We want to continue to build that relationship with the Guard,” Linterman said. “It is critical that we continue to work together and rehearse. Being on the peninsula, we could be cut off from everyone else in the event of a major earthquake.”
Penny Linterman, Emergency Management Program Coordinator, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and Capt. Dominique Calata, force protection plans officer, Special Operations Detachment- Pacific discuss the operations at the William Fairchild Airport.
One thing that the county has been working on is establishing Community Points of Distribution (CPOD), a place the public goes to pick up emergency supplies following a disaster. Members of the Guard joined voluneers at the Clallam County Fairgrounds to set up the potential distribution area.
“A benefit of the location near the fairgrounds is the easy access to and from the main roads, airport and pier,” Linterman said. “Supplies can be brought in and distributed to those in need and that is what is most important during a disaster, helping others.”
Still, it’s important to remember that help won’t be coming right away following a major disaster. It will take days, maybe even weeks. Residents in rural areas on the Olympic Peninsula need to be prepared to be two weeks ready – at a minimum.
Residents looking for help can download the Washington Emergency Management "2 Weeks Ready" brochure to get ideas for what supplies should be in an emergency kit, such as one gallon of water per person for each day you’re planning for your emergency kit.