Jim Buck, an earthquake-preparedness activist, discussed the impacts of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake Monday with the Port of Port Angeles commissioners. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Jim Buck, an earthquake-preparedness activist, discussed the impacts of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake Monday with the Port of Port Angeles commissioners. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Port of Port Angeles facilities called instrumental to a Cascadia earthquake response

Port facilities will be important resources when bridges become impassable, electronic communications and electric generation go silent, and schools are severely damaged.

PORT ANGELES — William R. Fairchild International Airport and Port of Port Angeles’ harbor terminals are key to the North Olympic Peninsula’s response to a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, Jim Buck, an earthquake-preparedness activist and former state legislator, said Monday.

Buck, Clallam County Fire District No. 3 disaster-planning responder Blaine Zechenelly and county Emergency Management Program Coordinator Penelope Linterman gave port commissioners a presentation on the dire impacts of the cataclysmic ground-shaker at the commission meeting.

Buck emphasized the port’s importance in an interview after his PowerPoint presentation, forebodingly titled “Matter of Time.”

“Without the port, we’d be in really big trouble,” Buck said. “There’s only two ways to get in here, the airport and by sea, and they control both.”

During his presentation, Buck detailed the consequences of a 6 minute, 30-second 9.2 subduction-zone temblor off the Washington and Oregon coasts, where the Juan de Fuca and North American plates meet.

Major earthquakes have occurred along the Cascadia Subduction Zone about once every 500 years, the last in January 1700.

Buck, a Joyce resident and former 24th District state representative, said bridges will become impassable, electronic communications and electric generation will go silent, and schools that double as shelters will be severely damaged.

Nursing homes will be destroyed, and 80 percent of roadways will be fissured and broken up, including 80 miles of one-way-in, one-way-out U.S. Highway 101.

Hospitals will be crippled if not unusable.

“There’s not going to be any ‘Gray’s Anatomy,’ high-intensity grade surgery going on,” Buck said.

The tsunami will inundate in about the same time it takes the TV show to air, he predicted.

“You can expect 30 feet in about 70 minutes,” he said.

“This all will be destroyed,” Buck told commissioners while sitting in the port’s administrative building meeting room.

“This is a significant liquefaction zone. Your parking lot at the back was the original beach.”

Buck said emergency agencies will establish an “air bridge” as a lifeline to Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“It will take every airplane we have,” Buck said.

Rapid Assessment Teams will deploy out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane to assess “survivable” airfields such as those in Clallam and Jefferson counties that are above tsunami zones.

Buck said the Coast Guard Base at Ediz Hook will be destroyed, its runway neutralized by liquefaction and flooded by the tsunami.

Runways that will be of “doubtful” use include those at Sea-Tac International Airport, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Boeing Field and Bellingham International Airport, Buck said.

Small-plane and helicopter-capable airports are in Port Townsend, Sequim, Sekiu and Diamond Point.

But airports such as Fairchild and city-of-Forks-owned Quillayute Airport, a former 1930s-era Navy blimp base, will accommodate C-17 and C-130 aircraft and are possibly among the only runways that will be immediately operational in Western Washington, Buck said.

Port commissioners were urged to talk to Department of Defense officials about making Fairchild a mobilization site for the San Juan Islands and Western Washington.

“That airport is absolutely critical for the survival of our population,” Linterman told port commissioners.

“This port could probably be up sooner than everyone else.”

Buck said he was confident the port could mobilize waterfront facilities for the water-borne transportation that might be the only form of transport if airports are knocked out.

“The more you do, the easier it’s going to be,” he told commissioners.

“If we had nothing to do but tugs and barges, you guys would figure out what to do.”

He also urged the port to move its maintenance facilities to higher ground, such as to Fairchild.

“That would be really prudent to do,” Buck said.

“Anything you have would be way better up there than down here after the tsunami.”

Airport and Marina Manager Jerry Ludke asked about relocating the county emergency operations center, located in the Clallam County Courthouse basement.

Linterman said the option was studied in 2008.

“We are going to resurrect it,” she said.

The Cascadia Rising 2016 exercise in June was intended to test the response of local and state agencies, including the National Guard, to a massive earthquake.

Buck will give his assessment of the exercise Monday at the Clallam County commissioners meeting.

“Some really good stuff happened, and some things need improvement,” Buck said after the port commission meeting.

He said it is “not unreasonable” to foresee another such exercise in the next 12 months.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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