Earthquake Disaster Field Exercise

It was 56 degrees, 11 mph winds and raining hard but two weeks after our ARES team designed a 6.0 earthquake it was time to put this disaster into play.  Since we do these types of exercises fairly often, we tend to use one of our two hour training nights rather than a full day scenario.  Not much time to get everything done, but it just makes us work faster.  10 minutes into the evening everyone had their scenario, action plan, safety briefing, tactical call signs, radio frequencies and assignments so out the door we went.

In this exercise, our Emergency Operations Center and much of the downtown area sustained damage, so command and control transferred to the Riverside Fire Authorities Emergency Coordination Center across town.  Power was out in some, but not all of the area.  A 48 car train carrying crude oil managed to stop when the earthquake hit, but two cars came off the tracks and tipped over.  The train cut the community in half.  Team members had to look up the emergency response guide placard “1267” and take precautions accordingly.  A fairly large portion of the area near the train derailment needed to evacuate so two of the team mapped out multiple evacuation routes.  A mutual aid request from the county sent us to the small town of Galvin and windshield surveys became widespread.  Creating a little “havoc” of our own, several team members made up insert scenarios ranging from traffic accidents, to fires to possible overpass failures.  On top of everything else, we had our communications vans spread out and were working on some HF radio tests using 6 and 10 meter ground wave.  It was a fun evening’s work keeping net control very busy.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” disaster exercise – at least for our team – but this one was close to perfect.  We need to slow down and control our communications – something we should be good at already.  It is difficult to always remember to say “exercise, exercise, exercise” but thankfully, net control did a great job of doing that.  We didn’t have quite enough people to get everything done that we had planned but what we did get done was completed safely and correctly.  We only train in the fire department’s ECC a couple of times per year but it is a beautiful facility with lots of maps and radio equipment.  It was a good learning experience for our net control and evacuation planners.

So what’s next?  We will debrief this exercise at our next meeting and fix a few bugs we found in one of the communications vans.  We hope to turn right around and design a flood disaster scenario since flood season is here in our area.  Maybe it is time to see how well one or more of the Assistant Emergency Coordinators can design a disaster scenario.  Hmmm……..


Designing A Disaster

As October arrives, our ARES team once again ramps up for the “Mother Nature Picks On The Pacific Northwest” season.  Training is switching from the wildfire preparations of summer to our fall flood response activities.  It has been awhile since we’ve worked a good disaster exercise, so we decided to create one. During our October 7th training night, the team chose to design a 6.0 earthquake from a series of nine disaster scenarios that included floods, wildfires, wind storms and even a hurricane.  The plan is to design a disaster selected by group consensus and then put that plan to the test during a field exercise on our October 21st training.  We’ll debrief the exercise at our first November meeting and then create a better disaster.

After deciding on an earthquake disaster, the next step was to list what kind of communications support would be required. The list of those we potentially needed to talk to included: police / fire department response teams, the Emergency Coordination Center (ECC), the State EOC, adjoining Lewis County ARES team and perhaps regions outside the disaster area via HF communications. Next the team determined possible support functions during and after an earthquake.  These included: ARES Command, possible shelter comms, staffing the ECC, windshield survey teams, evacuation support and creating helicopter landing zones.

A general list of required response equipment was next.  This included:  personal HT’s and mobile radios, go-bags and safety equipment, both ARES communications vans, helicopter LZ equipment bags, map books, a portable generator and even making sure our hazardous material identification app was up to date on cell phones.  A list of assignments included: radio operators, LZ teams, evacuation planning personnel, ARES communication van staff, including scribes, windshield survey teams, net control operators and an ARES command officer.

Finally, the team included a couple of possible “inserts” to be added if time allows.  These would include 10 meter / 6 meter ground wave communication tests, UHF/VHF crossband tests on our local repeater, simplex relays using HT’s and even a minor medical response for an injured ARES team member.  The ARES staff will refine this disaster scenario at our coffee meetings over the next two weeks and we should be ready to deal with a short – two hour – disaster exercise at our next meeting.

Our next ARES training session will be Monday, October 21st.  We’ll begin the exercise with a “tone out” using our Telegram alert system.  Team members will check into the net control and will be sent to the deployment area at the Mt. View Baptist Church.  There, everyone will receive a short safety briefing, an incident action plan summary, and frequency / personnel assignments.  We will check all our equipment and see if we can help save our community from this disaster.  Even though this is a short field exercise, it will allow us to test critical response systems and short of a torrential downpour that evening, it should be fun.  But perhaps our team member John, AD6KT, is right.  His motto is “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”.


Do We Have Hurricanes In the Pacific Northwest? Yes We Do!

By the time people in the Pacific Northwest woke up on Friday, October 12, 1962, “Freda” had been on the move for some time.  She formed as a typhoon 500 miles west of Wake Island in the central Pacific Ocean a week earlier.  As she moved north into colder waters  and interacted with the jet stream, Freda became an extratropical cyclone.  Freda arrived in Northern California as winds pushed her ashore, delaying some games in the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees.

Freda officially became “Hurricane Freda” when she touched landfall in the United States.  Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are basically the same types of storms, often labelled differently by their windspeed .  Storms in the Atlantic Ocean are usually identified as hurricanes with the storms in the Pacific Ocean called typhoons or cyclones

Now on land, Hurricane Freda hooked straight north as she moved into southwest Oregon, bringing a pressure which would be equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.  As Friday, October 12th dawned, few in the Pacific Northwest were aware of what the day would bring.  Oregon’s Cape Blanco soon measured wind gusts at 145 miles per hour while the Naselle Radar Station in the Willapa Hills of southwest Washington logged winds of 160 miles per hour.  Wind gusts in Portland, Oregon reached 116 mph, while Olympia officially measured 88mph.

Those living in eastern Washington experienced damaging high winds as well.  When the roof blew off a neighbor’s house where I lived in the town of Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley, my mother hustled me into a basement room with no windows for the next few hour.  Damaging winds reached as far inland as Spokane.

At lease 46 fatalities were attributed to Freda, more than for any other Pacific Northwest weather event.  Injuries went into the hundreds.  In less than 12 hours, more than 11 billion board feet of timber was blown down in northern California, Oregon and Washington.  Estimates put the dollar damage at over $2 Billion in today’s dollars.  The Metropolitan Life Insurance company named the Columbus Day Storm the nation’s worst natural disaster of 1962 as Hurricane Freda was labelled as the “most powerful extratropical cyclone recorded in the U.S in the 20th century.”

Few places in the United States are immune to natural disasters and the Pacific Northwest is no exception.  While wildfires, floods and earthquakes occur more often, we manage to get a volcanic eruption and even the occasional hurricane from time to time.  The next time someone tells you we don’t get hurricanes in the Pacific Northwest, relate the story of Hurricane Freda.  For a little kid hustled into the basement after witnessing the neighbor’s roof blown off their house, it was an experience never to be forgotten.