PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials, emergency responders and area volunteers came together for a drill Wednesday for using sea planes to transport people after a natural disaster.
The exercise was based at the beach on Kala Point and included teams from the Navy, East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management and others.
“It was a way to practice using amphibious aircraft for evacuating injured people,” said Sky Terry of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps.
The exercise was to help prepare for a massive earthquake from the 800-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Coast, which stretches from southern British Columbia to Northern California.
The fault spawns quakes of 9.0 magnitude or more 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.
Such a quake could disable any emergency response over land, including planes.
“In the case of a natural disaster, like a major earthquake, runways could be out,” said Don Goodman, a pilot from Bellingham who volunteered his plane for Wednesday’s training.
“Amphibious planes could be the only way to transport people, other than helicopters.”
During the training, medics from East Jefferson Fire Rescue, practiced rescuing an injured Navy firefighter from Naval Magazine Indian Island and brought the firefighter — which actually was a 120-pound dummy on a backboard — to Kala Point.
The dummy was walked down to the beach and then carried on to the plane. Other volunteers portrayed other mock victims with various injuries. They were bandaged and loaded onto the float plane to allow volunteers to practice basic first aid, such as applying splints and carrying a person on a backboard along rough terrain, and how to safely carry injured people and get them onto a plane.
Volunteers, mostly from the Kala Point and Marrowstone Island neighborhoods, were given a short orientation on Wednesday morning on how to safely move around a sea plane and were briefed on that morning’s practice situation.
“It was a chance to give them hands-on with the float planes,” Terry said. “You deal with stuff differently with float planes than with land based planes but it’s mostly how to safely get people on and off and being aware of propellers.”
This is the first time a training like this was done in Jefferson County. Terry has been running training like this in Bellingham’s Lake Whatcom and Seattle’s Lake Washington for roughly two years.
The pilot, Goodman, said this is the first time he’s flown his plane into a training like this. As a member of the Washington Seaplane Pilot’s Association (WSPA), he has worked with Terry in other ways to support emergency planning and training like this in Washington state.
Terry has been working with the WSPA to create a data base of pilots willing to help in emergencies.
The actual implementation of those pilots is a work in progress, according to Goodman, since they still don’t have a good way to notify pilots in case of an emergency and figuring out how planes will be able to either fuel up or carry enough fuel to evacuate people is another issue.
“It’s still in development,” Goodman said. “This kind of practice is a refinement of that system.”
Goodman, who flew about 35 minutes from Lake Samish to Kala Point, has also worked with officials in Clallam County to use sea planes as emergency vehicles there as well.
On Aug. 1, 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 attended an amphibious training exercise in Westport at the invitation of Washington National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Brett Daugherty.