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Staged magnitude 8 earthquake rocks peninsula during a drill

They are not waiting for a disaster to hit; they are ready for it.

A team of about 26 people, all residents of the Emerald Highlands subdivision in south Sequim, donned green reflective vests, hard hats and goggles on a sunny autumn day last week.

Although it appeared every house in the neighborhood was standing, none were on fire and no one was injured, to the trained eye a disaster had struck that

Oct. 1 morning.

"That house there completely collapsed earlier this morning and this woman right here suffered injuries in the incident," said Bob Mills, motioning to a standing home and a woman smiling and speaking to the group of green-clad responders. "It doesn't look like it, but we've been responding to a disaster all morning."

The Emerald Highlands Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, was one of many organizations that participated in a Clallam countywide earthquake and tsunami drill.

Clallam County's emergency management division planned the drill for about eight months and finally made the first calls early Wednesday morning letting different areas know how the disaster affected them.

"The drill was based on a magnitude 8 earthquake, which generated a tsunami that impacted the coastal areas of the entire county," said incident commander Bob Martin. "We assumed quite a few structural collapses, damaged bridges and roads systems, which caused many areas to be isolated from one another and isolated from the rest of the (Puget) Sound."

After the calls went out, agencies responded according to plan. The Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Red Cross set up shelters for displaced people, which several local residents volunteered to be. CERT teams organized and went through their responses. Medical personnel prepared themselves for a high influx of injured people while Clallam Transit transported 52 student volunteers, who were faking injuries, to medical response staging areas.



Successful drill?

Even with months of planning and a set organizational structure of how different agencies respond to different disasters, not everything went well. According to Martin, that means the drill was a success.

"Things did not go smoothly, which is good, because you want to find the kinks in your system to work them out," he said. "Communication was one of the major things that needed improvement."

Agencies were communicating but, with dozens of responders and scenarios, the information swirled into the emergency management center in the courthouse basement rather than flowing in a manageable stream.

"The information flow can be confusing and difficult at times, which is something that would likely be the case in a real disaster, so we've gotten our feet wet in that regard," Martin said. "One thing that stood out was the reliability of the communication infrastructure."

Responders communicated through the Olympic Peninsula Safety Communications Alliance Network, a radio over Internet system, and with ham radios.

"We're hoping this serves as an example to individuals and neighborhoods to be prepared because there will be a lot to handle in a peninsula disaster and people may become isolated," Martin said.

Emergency organizers advise individuals to create disaster kits to survive in isolation for up to two weeks.

For more information on the county's emergency management division, visit www.clallam.net/EmergencyMgmt. For state-level information, visit www.emd.wa.gov.



CERT

Isolation is not a new notion to peninsula residents. However, with an aging population, some with special needs, Martin said a neighborhood-level response can make the difference in a life or death situation.

Mills is all too familiar with the concept. He's not only involved in his local CERT team but trains other neighborhoods around the county to be prepared as well.

"We all have a job to do and a duty to watch out for our neighbors here," he said.

The team leader organizes response teams to assess damage to the neighborhood. The teams include a search and rescue group, a radio team, a medical response group and a fire suppression team.

"We are not supposed to get into anything extreme, like an entire house engulfed in flames, but we can put out a grass fire, find and help injured people and turn off people's propane," he said.

The team has barrels of supplies stashed throughout the neighborhood so that tools and supplies are available in any part of the 114 home subdivision.

Mills estimates there is about one professional emergency responder to every 325 citizens in the county.

"They are going to do a great job," he said. "But if you have an organized response, with a plan in the back of your head that is the same plan others have, then you can really have a positive reaction to the disaster rather than chaos while waiting for emergency responders."



Community Events, April 2014

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