PORT ANGELES — What will you do when the ground starts shaking? And what comes next?
Washington residents were asked to consider a course of action Thursday during The Great Washington ShakeOut, a state-wide exercise in emergency preparedness held during International ShakeOut Day.
At 10:17 a.m., people were instructed to take cover in appropriate places — including under desks, tables and in doorways.
In many places, people were ushered outdoors to muster at pre-designated locations.
Coastal tsunami warning sirens sounded at the appointed hour.
Schools, businesses, hospitals and other entities participated in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Most importantly, people were asked to consider that the real concern is how to be ready for when the shaking stops.
Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron, who is serving as the county’s interim emergency management director, said there is more to earthquake preparedness than knowing how to avoid the immediate concern of falling objects and of finding high ground in a tsunami.
He said stockpiling supplies and everyday necessities is an integral part of a long-term survival plan.
Asking for outside help might not be a viable option, Cameron said.
“We’re working everyday to try to make ourselves, as well as the public, as prepared as we can possibly be. But we’re going to be shut out,” he said. “This is an island. No matter how we look at it.”
Jim Buck, earthquake preparation advocate and former state representative, agreed.
“There’s new information coming out all the time,” he said. “What we are finding is that our concerns and suspicions about how vulnerable we are are being confirmed.
“We are going to be on our own a minimum of about 30 days.”
Experts have said that it is not a matter of if, but when, a megathrust earthquake — of 9.0 magnitude or perhaps greater — will occur on the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault off the northwest coast.
Few employees at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles participated in the duck-and-cover part of Thursday’s ShakeOut, but Cameron said each department was asked to review plans on what to do in the event of a real earthquake.
“OK, the shaking has stopped and now what are you going to do?” Cameron asked. “You can get out of the building, but how are you going to get out? How are you going to effect that?”
Olympic Medical Center staff took cover at the alarm and prior to the drill reviewed responsibilities during a quake, said hospital spokeswoman Bobby Beeman. A large focus was testing the communication plan at the Port Angeles site. That plan will be tested at the Sequim campus at 10:25 a.m. next Friday, Oct. 25.
Jennifer Burkhardt, OMC chief human resources director who oversees emergency preparedness, congratulated the emergency preparedness team and Julie Black, director of support services and leader of the team.
The undersheriff said about 10,000 people would be a reasonable goal for Clallam County, but was pleased that about 16,000 individuals, families and organizations registered their intent to take part in the drill.
Almost 9,000 people were registered in Jefferson County.
However, Cameron said he worries about just how ready the Peninsula truly is.
He rated Clallam County a five on a scale of one to 10 of earthquake preparedness.
Said Buck: “I think that’s pretty accurate. He and I have been working pretty hard on this.”
“Here’s the real problem,” Cameron said. “Nobody alive knows what a 9.0 earthquake is really going to be like.
“I’m a firm believer that a lot of things that we think will happen won’t, and a lot of things that we think won’t happen, will. And so, how do you prepare for that?”
Cameron praised the efforts of individuals and organizations as they worked out their survival plans, including the Joyce Emergency Planning and Preparation (JEPP) volunteers’ effort to stockpile food for their community.
But he wondered what could be done with the rest of Clallam County’s 75,000 residents and as many as 25,000 visitors at any given time.
The just-in-time daily supermarket delivery system, combined with the almost certain destruction of transportation links, would create unimaginable scenarios. Cameron suggested that the long-prescribed two-week supply of food and necessities wasn’t going to be enough and that a month’s worth was a better idea for an isolated North Olympic Peninsula.
Buck, a member of JEPP, said the rest of the county needs to look at what has been done in Joyce and think about emulating it. Donna Buck said that volunteer groups have been meeting all week to go over preparations.
Said Cameron: “We’re not self-sustaining so we have to rely on the outside helping us, and they’re just not going to be able to respond to us that quickly.
“The ‘two-weeks ready’ idea is out the window as far as we’re concerned.”
Evacuation maps in case of an earthquake and its following tsunami can be found at tinyurl.com/PDN-tsunamiwalkingmaps.
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at [email protected].
Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this story.