PORT TOWNSEND — Tsunami sirens sounded and residents “dropped, covered and held” during the 2019 Great Washington ShakeOut drill, to practice what to do when an earthquake hits.
At 10:17 a.m. Thursday, the tsunami sirens scattered through Port Townsend signaled the start of the international earthquake drill, which had 8,752 participants registered for Jefferson County, according to the registry at shakeout.org.
More than 65 million people were registered to participate in the drill across the world as of Thursday afternoon.
Government entities, all the school districts, Jefferson Healthcare hospital and businesses participated in the drill in some way, either taking cover or having discussions on what they would do in the event of an earthquake.
Keppie Keplinger, public information officer with the Department of Emergency Management in Jefferson County, said the drill went well in East Jefferson County.
“We heard from several people that they dropped, covered and held, which is what we were hoping for,” Keplinger said.
“There were no complications as far as I know.”
Multiple volunteers assisted the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), especially among amateur radio (ham radio) operators, which Keplinger was grateful to have.
“We’re very happy,” Keplinger said.
At the hospital, the staff participated in different ways, depending on department, but the main goal of the drill was to test their communications system in case of an emergency and not to interrupt patient time, said Amy Yaley, director of marketing and communications for Jefferson Healthcare.
“It went great,” Yaley said. “The focus for us was making sure our internal communication worked and to minimize the impact on our daily work-flow.
“I would call it a success.”
The Great ShakeOut offers a good opportunity for schools to practice their earthquake procedures.
Chimacum School District, for instance, had students take cover under their desks before evacuating outside.
The elementary students in third through sixth grades and the Pi students faced an additional challenge because this was the first earthquake drill for them in a new building, said Jason Lynch, Chimacum Elementary School principal.
The school was packed with activity because it was picture day in addition to normal class time and several students were outside at recess, but Lynch said it went well.
“It’s great to have something planned when we have a busy day,” he said.
“We’re practicing drills in a new location. All in all, our first earthquake drill went well.”
Schools in Washington state are required to have emergency drills once a month, and the ShakeOut counts for this month’s drill for the district.
The drill also gave the district an opportunity to test its new ham radio — which Special Education teacher Jim Betteley is certified to operate — which would be used to communicate with the EOC in the event that cellphone service and phone lines go down.
“This is pretty exciting,” Lynch said. “We’ve never had this level of operation.”
Betteley was able to send a test report to the EOC, about what potentially might have happened at the school during a higher magnitude earthquake.
While the elementary school experienced smooth sailing, the junior and senior high school staff had to improvise a little, Principal David Carthum said.
“Our intercom went down right when I called the evacuation,” Carthum said. “We had to improvise and send people to announce it.
“That’s why we do drills.”
Outside of the slight malfunction, the students performed well, Carthum said.
“It went great,” Carthum said. “Students and staff evacuated perfectly.”
The Great ShakeOut is especially important to Washington state and the Olympic Peninsula, as the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is pulled under the North American plate has the potential to cause “megathrust quakes” that can reach above a 9.0 magnitude and spur large tsunamis.
Experts have said it is not a question of if the Peninsula will be hit with a quake, but when.
Evacuation maps in case of an earthquake and its following tsunami can be found at tinyurl.com/PDN-tsunamiwalkingmaps.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].