Clallam commissioners briefed on draft Cascadia Rising evaluation, improvement plan

Officials: Earthquake drill was first step in response plan for major disaster.

PORT ANGELES — Cascadia Rising was a good first step in creating a response to a disaster beyond comprehension, emergency management officials told Clallam County commissioners Monday.

The four-day exercise in early June simulated a magnitude-9.0 earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Northwest coast and its resulting tsunami.

Clallam County Emergency Management Program Coordinator Jayme Wisecup briefed commissioners on a working draft of a Cascadia Rising Functional Exercise Evaluation Guide and Improvement Action Plan.

Officials acknowledged that the exercise identified deficiencies in operational communications and available manpower.

“You can look at the glass as half full or half empty,” said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, whose office includes emergency management.

“If we thought that we were going to be spectacularly successful with this exercise, we woundn’t have done it because it would have been a waste of everybody’s time.”

Final report by October

A final report on the Cascadia Rising exercise is expected in mid-October, Wisecup said.

Jim Buck, an earthquake-preparedness activist and former state legislator, offered his own observations about the exercise during the board work session.

He said Cascadia Rising was a “first baby step” toward creating a response to the kind of earthquake that happens along the subduction zone roughly once every 500 years, the last of which occurred in January 1700.

“We learned a lot,” Buck said. “The biggest thing I think is the incredible number of people it’s going to take to manage this stuff when it happens.”

Wisecup provided different-colored ribbons to work session attendees to represent those who will perish in the earthquake or who will be unaccounted for, and those who have dependents who will be killed or go missing.

“This is a true picture of what will happen with a catastrophic event,” Wisecup said.

Perhaps the biggest key to disaster planning is to encourage people to store enough food, water and medication to survive with no outside assistance for 30 days, officials said.

“We’re going to be on our own,” Buck said.

“This is a critical piece of information for the people of Clallam County.”

Benedict told commissioners that government “can’t solve every problem or save everyone in the county in the event of a catastrophic geological event like this.”

“Responding to people that don’t have medication, who don’t have food, is going to be one of our biggest problems,” Benedict said.

An estimated 71,500 of the roughly 72,000 Clallam County residents will survive the earthquake, Buck said.

“I think we’re looking at a greater loss of life in the next 30 days,” he added. “And that can be prevented.”

Clallam County was one of many local, state, federal and tribal agencies that participated in Cascadia Rising exercise.

The drill was part functional table-top exercise and part boots-on-the-ground field training that occurred throughout the county.

The Clallam County Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, was moved from the basement of the county courthouse to William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles to simulate earthquake damage.

Need NIMS-trained people

“Full EOC activation for a major disaster at the best requires about 20 NIMS- [National Incident Management System] qualified people to be able to keep the Emergency Operations Center open for 12 hours,” Buck said.

“You’re going to need another 12 to 20 people to keep it open for the second 12 hours, and then call the first ones back for the third 12 hours. By the third day, they’re all wasted.

“We need to be thinking in terms of where we’re going to get NIMS-trained people,” Buck added.

Wisecup said Clallam County is lucky to have committed emergency management volunteers and amateur radio operators.

But officials said more volunteers are needed.

“Your commissioners, your government employees cannot do this alone,” Buck told the audience.

“They are going to have to have your support from the community to get volunteers and the efforts made to get this done.”

Buck, a former 24th District state representative from Joyce, said Clallam County’s scenic landscape is “going to get even with us” because bridges will collapse and landslides will occur.

A major earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca and North American plates converge, will split the county into about 20 isolated “micro islands,” Buck said.

“Cascadia Rising highlighted amazing complexities involving the management of a catastrophic event in Clallam County,” Buck said.

Buck noted that the Boundary Creek fault south of Port Angeles and the Whidbey Island fault near Port Townsend are each capable of producing damaging magnitude-7.5 earthquakes.

He said the county wanted Cascadia Rising evaluators to be tough with their observations “so we could learn as much from the exercise as possible.”

“And they were,” Buck said. “Participants in this event should realize that no matter what the results were, the exercise was an effective learning tool.”

To learn from the exercise, Commissioner Mark Ozias suggested a list of top priorities from emergency planners.

“The point is to try and take everything that we’ve learned and come up with some way of prioritizing,” Ozias said.

Cameron said the top priority is “always communication.”

“As Jim pointed out, as did Jayme, we’ve got tons of things to do,” Cameron said.

Said Buck: “No matter what we do in advance, the effort is going to fail if county residents do not prepare to feed and shelter themselves for 30 days.”

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

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