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Preparedness, training key in riding out the Big One

Preparedness key in riding out the Big One

Preparedness will be key in surviving the next big earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest. That means families need to have at least three days’ worth of supplies and an emergency “go” kit ready and, for those living on the coast, have an understanding of evacuation routes and the warning signs behind tsunamis – including how NOAA Weather Radio works and the coastal sirens.

“Don't be scared of earthquakes and tsunamis. Be informed, educated, prepared and then be confident that you are ready,” said John Schelling, the Earthquake/Tsunami/Volcano Programs Manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

An article published in The New Yorker this week talks about how a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake could devastate the coast.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone extends from northern California to Vancouver Island. The tectonic plates that make up the Cascadia fault have become wedged together, building energy that will eventually release. When that happens, the coastline could experience a possible magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a devastating tsunami. Scientific evidence indicates that a magnitude 8.0-9.0 earthquake occurs along the 800-mile long CSZ fault on average once every 200 to 500 years. The last major earthquake and tsunami along the fault occurred more than 300 years ago in 1700.

John Vidale, the state seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle with PNSN, says that there’s a reasonable expectation of some critical failures of infrastructure and, at worst, a patchwork of building failures with people immobile and relying on their own resources for a period of days (and conceivably weeks), not uniform and serious damage to most buildings. Vidale notes that a tsunami on the coast is likely, but it’s safe to say that there will not be a big killer wave on the Puget Sound or Lake Washington except in the unlikely event of a big nearby landslide.

This is not new news. There’s been plenty of media coverage about the potential for a big earthquake to hit our area in recent years and there’s been plenty of preparation underway by government agencies at all levels.


What the vertical tsunami evacuation building in Westport will look like when finished next year.

Next year, the nation’s first vertical evacuation center will open near Westport, Washington, the culmination of a decade worth of progress in tsunami readiness on the coast since the Indonesian tsunami back in 2004.

The Washington Military Department led a Joint Planning Team to develop a state Earthquake Response Plan which it continues to test, refine and improve. That plan was tested last month by the Washington National Guard and the Washington Emergency Management Division, which worked together on a multi-day exercise called Evergreen Tremor . The exercise scenario involved training exercises all over the state. The plan will be tested again next year during the national Cascadia Rising exercise,

“Out of these exercises, our intent is to take the feedback we receive – have they identified problems, have they identified gaps – and develop solutions to address those problems and gaps,” said LTC Clay Braun, deputy director of domestic operations for the Washington National Guard who chaired the Joint Planning Team.

Prior to Evergreen Tremor, the Washington National Guard had begun conducting training exercises specific to missions that could potentially take place after a major earthquake.

Since the devastating State Route 530 Landslide, the 66th Theater Aviation Command shifted their training plans, teaming up with local, county and state partners with the goal of expanding their state mission. Just last week, the unit conducted their first ever Search and Rescue mission, rescuing missing hikers at Rimrock Lake near Yakima. This was possible due to an in-depth joint training program with Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team.

The 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, a unit that provides tactical command and control of close air support assets to U.S. Army ground commanders during overseas deployments, has taken those same skills sets and has begun training on them for use during domestic operations.

“This training is critical to me as a member of the Washington National Guard because it goes beyond our federal mission,” Senior Airmen Brant Shaw, 1116th Air Support Operations Squadron.

Conducting successful life-saving and life-sustaining response operations in the aftermath of a Cascadia Subduction Zone disaster will hinge on the effective coordination and integration of governments at all levels – cities, counties, state agencies, federal officials, the military, tribal nations – as well as non-government organizations and the private sector. One of the primary goals of Cascadia Rising is to train and test this whole community approach to complex disaster operations together as a joint team.

So, what can you do now?

Schelling says if you haven’t yet begun to build an earthquake and tsunami supply kit, start right away. If you can, build the whole kit. If there are financial and time limitations, at least get it started by doing one thing every day, every week, maybe every month.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both (link weather radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

More individual preparedness tips here. Don’t forget about your pet or your business.

What else can you do?

Know how to find family after a disaster. Put together a family emergency plan and an out of area contact – especially important because local telephone lines may be down or overwhelmed but an out-of-area contact me be able to receive calls. More information here:

  • Secure your space, by identifying your hazards and securing moveable items.
  • Create a disaster plan and identifying communication needs.
  • Organize disaster supplies in convenient locations.
  • Minimize financial hardship by strengthening your property and considering insurance.

Know your neighborhood. Does someone on your block have a generator? Do others know how to use power tools? Figure it out. Work together. Map your neighborhood.

If you live on the coast, learn your evacuation routes. Understand where your meeting points will be. Find out if you are in a tsunami hazard zone and how to reach high ground BEFORE the ground shakes. You might not be able to afterwards. There’s a good chance that evacuation warnings will be given before the tsunami arrives. Alerts are tweeted out regularly by the National Tsunami Warning Center following earthquakes  and will be sent out on NOAA Weather Radio as well as from the tsunami sirens based up and down the coast.

Practice your plans. Learn what Drop Cover and Hold means.

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won't fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

It is through actual practicing that we build muscle memory to help us respond correctly when the shaking starts. Sign up for the Great Washington ShakeOut. Have your employer sign up. Work together. We can get through this.

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