A M997A2 Humvee offloads from a landing craft during the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet amphibious exercise in Westport. (Jim Buck)

Navy exercise illustrates how it could help after major quake

WESTPORT — A U.S. Navy amphibious exercise might have been a catalyst for three North Olympic Peninsula emergency planning officials to reconsider how to supply aid in the aftermath of a disaster.

Washington National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Brett Daugherty invited Blaine Zechenelly, Fire District 3 disaster planner/Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) coordinator; Clallam County Emergency Management volunteer Jim Buck and Jefferson County Emergency Manager Lynn Sterbenz to attend the Aug. 1 exercise.

The group met state Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and flew to Westport on a National Guard CH-47 chinook helicopter.

They observed USS Anchorage (LPD-23) crew members land two humvees, a front-end loader, a dump truck and a utility truck with a portable fuel tank, after which they toured the vessel.

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how the Navy can provide emergency assistance to coastal counties after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami.

Cascadia Subduction Zone

The 800-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Coast, which stretches from southern British Columbia to Northern California, spawns massive earthquakes an average of once every 200 to 500 years, with the last in about 1700. Officials say it is not if, but when, the next major quake will occur.

When it does, much of the North Olympic Peninsula likely will be cut off, with telephone lines, roads and other resources heavily damaged or completely destroyed, emergency planners have said.

Until recently, the regional response plan was based on obtaining relief supplies by air, said Buck, a Joyce resident and former state legislator.

“Air supply will be vital during the first weeks after the quake, but the bulk of what we need to start recovery will have to come by sea,” Buck said.

“This was a great opportunity to learn how that can be done.”

Shipssuch as the Anchorage — can potentially serve as off-shore bases by transporting relief supplies with landing craft, boats and helicopters.

The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship holds a maximum of 800 marines with vehicles and supplies.

It also can purify 72,000 gallons of saltwater per day, and houses a 22-bed hospital with two operating rooms and a six-bed intensive care unit, according to the release.

“The communities on the Olympic Peninsula know they will need to sustain themselves for a time until help is able to arrive,” Sterbenz said.

“Planning with our military partners now helps us to know how and when that help will come, how we can best prepare to receive them and what they will need from us.”

During the exercise, Zechenelly met with 3rd Fleet personnel and Senior Defense Analyst Bryan Caraveo from Booz Allen Hamilton, discussing available Navy equipment and what CERT would have to specifically request in terms of nomenclature and description.

CERT’s goal is to implement its requests into the 3rd Fleet’s operational plan.

Booz Allen Hamilton has a contract with the Navy to identify and survey landing beaches.

Zechenelly also discussed arrangements for Navy-led beach surveys which could allow for supply landing zones at La Push, Neah Bay, Clallam Bay, Port Crescent, Port Angeles, Jamestown and Port Williams.

When determined if these locations are permissible, they will be incorporated into the Ground Truth Plans for each micro-island, as well as future county planning.

“This will show us which roads we have to clear first so we [CERT] can do a better job of setting up distribution points for our residents,” Buck said.