South Cedar Street in Port Angeles is one of a half-dozen tsunami evacuation routes in the city. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

South Cedar Street in Port Angeles is one of a half-dozen tsunami evacuation routes in the city. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Port of Port Angeles officials identify gaps in preparedness after Cascadia Rising drill

Equipment, communication highlighted in presentation to commissioners on devastating earthquake scenario.

PORT ANGELES — One of the first reactions of Port of Port Angeles employees when the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake hits should be to flee to higher ground up South Cedar, West Hill and other city streets designated as tsunami evacuation routes.

West Second, South Lincoln and North Ennis streets, and Strait View Drive, are other tsunami routes in the city.

But it might be wise for port officials to also plan to evacuate the the port’s log-loaders, parked on the waterfront in the tsunami zone, commissioners said at their regular work session Monday.

They said the heavy equipment will prove vital in recovery efforts to clear paths through the catastrophic landscape after it’s hit with a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which geologists say occurs about once every 500 years, the last being in 1700.

That was just one of several suggestions, including establishment of a reliable communications system, that grew from a presentation to port commissioners Monday on the June 7-10 region-wide Cascadia Rising earthquake drill.

The exercise was intended to test responses of local, state and federal agencies to a 9.0-subduction-zone temblor off the Washington and Oregon coasts, where the Juan de Fuca and North American plates meet under constant seismic pressure.

Commissioners also had some words of their own for agencies that took part in the drill — and said that the port, too, had gaps to fill.

Port Operations Supervisor Dan Shea, who gave the presentation, said the port participated in the exercise by giving the county emergency operations center an update on the faux 8 a.m. quake the morning of June 7.

By then, the scenario had Platypus Marine Inc. leveled, Westport Shipyard mostly destroyed — and casualties everywhere.

A port washdown facility was used to decontaminate equipment and personnel from spills spewing from Nippon Paper Industries USA and ruptured Tesoro Terminal tanks about three blocks west of the port administrative building.

“There probably aren’t going to be any phones, and for this scenario, we had phones,” Shea told the commissioners.

The emergency operations center also is in the basement of the county courthouse in an unreinforced brick building, “which is like the worst place you could possibly be,” Commissioner Steve Burke said.

Shea said in a later interview that as part of the exercise, emergency operations center personnel evacuated the courthouse and moved to the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport — on the scenario’s third day.

The National Guard also queued up in Port Angeles in preparation for the earthquake drill — before the earthquake hit.

“That’s cheating,” commission Chairwoman Colleen McAleer said at the meeting.

“It seems like that ought to have been part of the whole exercise process.”

Military vehicles from Joint Base Lewis-McChord southwest of Tacoma also are expected to help in the aid effort.

Asked by McAleer what the odds are of U.S. Highway 101 — the main thoroughfare into Port Angeles — being passable after the temblor, Shea responded, “It won’t be.”

“That seems kind of crazy,” said McAleer, a former helicopter and fixed-wing Army pilot.

“A realistic response would look somewhat different.”

Keeping the airport operating and water access available via the harbor will be key to the response effort — and fall in the port’s bailiwick.

“After a tsunami, who knows what’s going to happen with [the port’s] docks,” Shea said.

Army personnel determined that keeping Fairchild open and the port’s two water-accessible log ramps intact were important to earthquake-response efforts.

“Rescue craft can roll off those,” Shea said of the ramps.

When the earthquake does strike, port officials at the meeting said employees will see if their families are OK, first and foremost.

But the log loaders will need to be driven to higher ground, Commissioner Connie Beauvais said.

“Somehow we’ve got to get that equipment up there,” she said.

Fuel also will be needed, she said, adding thought should be given to moving the emergency operations center to the airport.

Shea said reliable communication also was an issue during the exercise.

“When everything started happening, everyone found out that communication was breaking down right away,” he said.

Beauvais suggested the port establish its own radio system.

Ham, or amateur, radio cannot be the only available communication, she said.

“We cannot rely on one form of radio.”

________

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

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