Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith, right, discuses safety concerns of the city in a meeting with Nancy Bickford, an aide to the state adjutant general, left, and Washington State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle during a meeting with area officials Friday at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

State official tours Clallam County preparedness for Cascadia quake

PORT ANGELES — State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle recently took a first-hand look at how Clallam County officials are preparing for a massive earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

Ezelle toured the micro-islands of the east and central county Friday with local officials who are planning for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 30- to 40-foot tsunami that is expected to crash into the North Olympic Peninsula.

Clallam County will become isolated as bridges collapse and culverts fail, creating about 20 micro-islands countywide, planners say.

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.

A Cascadia disaster has been “at the top of the priority list” since Ezelle became state emergency management director four years ago, he said.

“We’ve been working very, very hard at the state level to try and get the traction, to try and get the legislative focus and try and get resources to deal with this,” Ezelle told a group of Clallam County emergency planners, law enforcement and elected officials.

“But we fully realize that the brunt of the hard work is not going to be done at the state level. It’s really, truly going to be done down at the community level.

He added: “I just want to tip my hat to all of you for the fabulous work that you’ve done out here in Clallam County.”

Clallam County has been at the forefront of emergency planning though the work of the Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division, local fire departments and grass-roots efforts such as the Joyce Emergency Planning and Preparedness (JEPP).

Former state Rep. Jim Buck of JEPP toured the micro islands with Ezelle, Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron, Emergency Management Coordinator Penelope Linterman and others before a briefing in the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

Buck displayed posters depicting expected damage from the Cascadia quake and tsunami, which last occurred in January 1700, and possible evacuation routes out of downtown Port Angeles.

“I think that you truly have a start here that really should serve as a benchmark for other counties, other communities across Western Washington and even into Eastern Washington to look at some of the organizational things that they can be looking at to deal with the hazards that they face,” Ezelle said.

“I intend going forward to continue to leverage what you’re doing, to showcase it and try to encourage others to do likewise.”

Ezelle was appointed director of the state Military Department’s Emergency Management Division by the department’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, in April 2013.

He was joined on the Friday tour by Nancy Bickford, aide to Daugherty.

Bickford said Buck, Linterman and Clallam County Fire District No. 3 disaster planner Blaine Zechenelly impressed a group of state senators in a recent committee meeting on disaster planning.

Given the cuts in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bickford urged finding a sustainable source of funding for emergency management.

“The FEMA funding in the time that I’ve been associated with the department since 2003 has really dropped about 70 percent, and the Republican administration is not going to help us much,” Bickford said.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said state funding for emergency management has been inconsistent.

“Perhaps, to throw something out, maybe it would be in the state’s best interest to fund each county’s emergency manager, or something along those lines,” Benedict said.

Bickford said a cellphone tax would be one way to provide that funding.

Benedict said he could not shift more resources in his department to emergency management.

“I’m not going to sell the citizens on saying, ‘We’re not going to have a night shift anymore so that we can prepare for Cascadia,’ ” Benedict said.

“They’re not going to buy that.”

Said Ezelle: “Sheriff, your point is well-taken. We get it.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.