PORT ANGELES — A team of North Olympic Peninsula pilots plan to take to the skies when a catastrophic 9.0 earthquake rocks Western Washington.
Researchers have said it’s not a question of if but when a quake of at least 9.0 magnitude will strike in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault that stretches from Vancouver Island to Northern California.
That earthquake will make land travel on the North Olympic Peninsula difficult, if not impossible, said Alan Barnard, who is leading an effort to create a Disaster Airlift Response Team (DART) in Clallam County. The effort inspired Jefferson County to develop a team as well.
The DART is a team of local pilots that would transfer supplies and resources in and out of affected areas and help injured people to safety, he said.
“This has the ability to save many lives and assist many people throughout the county when there would be no other way in the short term after an event,” he said. “All of us realize the life-saving capability of this and are dedicated to seeing it happen.”
The first DART efforts were pioneered in California and adopted by the California Pilots Association to respond to a “cataclysmic event which degrades regional transportation,” according to the association’s website.
He said that if Clallam County’s bridges go down during the quake, the county would have “five distinct islands of land that we wouldn’t be able to get vehicles to.”
Barnard predicts in the days directly after the quake hits Clallam County, residents will be on their own before state and federal aid arrives.
A report on the Cascadia Rising exercise that tested state resources found the state’s plans were “inadequate in many areas” and said there is an urgent need for residents to prepare for the earthquake.
A Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake would destroy transportation systems and isolate many Western Washington communities, and it could take several weeks for assistance to reach those communities, according to the report.
“The only thing we have are private pilots and private airplanes,” he said. “Without anything, we wait.”
Barnard said he has about 14 pilots already who have volunteered to help if there is a disaster and is looking for more people who want to be involved.
He said he needs both pilots and people to work on the ground to help transfer supplies.
The team is consists of private pilots, but their plan would be adopted by the county, said Penny Linterman, Clallam County Emergency Management program coordinator.
“What we would hope is we could adopt it as an annex to our comprehensive emergency management plan,” she said, adding that would need approval from the Board of County Commissioners.
Though the plan needs to be formally adopted, she said it would go into effect if disaster struck.
“If we get the earthquake tomorrow, the draft would go into effect anyway,” she said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck.”
She called the plan a piece of a larger puzzle when it comes to the response to an earthquake.
The Clallam County effort inspired Jefferson County to create a DART plan for itself, said John Crooks, county operations and emergency operations center supervisor.
He said Jefferson County isn’t quite as far along as Clallam County in developing the plan, but so far there are about six pilots interested in helping.
“We know the best way to build resilience is to keep as many people involved as possible,” Crooks said.
He anticipates work on the plan itself will start within the next month. It’s the team itself that would put the plan together, but Crooks said he’d help with communications and help answer questions.
Sky Terry, western regional director of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps, said the efforts in Clallam and Jefferson counties are paving the way for others in the state.
Terry said he doesn’t see why it needs to take three or more weeks for help to make its way to rural parts of the state and lauded locals’ efforts to prepare themselves.
“You guys are the model,” he said. “You’re going to lead the rest of the state.
“Everyone is just starting to follow that lead and it’s fantastic to see.”
For more information about the Clallam County DART, email Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Jefferson County DART, call Crooks at 360-385-9368 or email email@example.com.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.