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King County tests disaster response with regional earthquake exercise

King County joined with federal, state, and local agencies this week to test its capacity to respond to and recover from a major earthquake.

The exercise, dubbed “Evergreen Quake 2012,” gave participants a chance to assess their disaster response plans and emergency communication strategies. Six counties, including King County, participated in the drill, along with the state of Washington, more than 20 cities, several tribal nations, and numerous private sector partners. The exercise also included an international component as representatives from the Canadian province of British Columbia took part in the exercise.

“Exercises like this, where we simulate pushing our emergency systems to their limits, keep us ready to respond to a real, crippling quake – the kind for which we know we’re long overdue in this region,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who would oversee the County’s response in the event of disaster.

The role of the King County Office of Emergency Management is to coordinate and support the regional disaster response. In one example from the Evergreen Quake 2012 exercise this week, King County supported Vashon Island in testing “Operation Lifeline,” a plan which uses boats to transport emergency food, medicine, fuel, and medical care to the island during a catastrophic event. As part of the exercise, the King County Water Taxi was put to task loading, transporting, and unloading emergency supplies and critically injured “patients.”

“A 7.1 magnitude quake along the Tacoma Fault would create a humanitarian crisis for Vashon Island’s 10,000 residents,” said Fire District Chief Hank Lipe. “The island is likely to become isolated due to a collapse of critical infrastructure. So, having a well-thought out and tested plan for transporting basic necessities is critical to our community’s survival until ferry service can be restored.”

“The plans in place for delivering important resources when usual routes have been compromised proved to work well during our drill,” stated Ron Panzero of the King County Department of Transportation. “This exercise included just one passenger boat, but it allowed us to go through the motions required for establishing a marine transportation link if we ever need to fully activate the Operation Lifeline plan.”

This the first time Puget Sound emergency agencies have partnered on a marine transportation system to support an isolated island. Partners expect this exercise to yield a model for other islands in the region. While Operation Lifeline can’t replace the 70-plus ferry runs that land on Vashon each day, it can bring Islanders basic relief until ferry service is restored.

While public and private sector entities drill their emergency plans, it is also important for residents to make sure they are personally prepared to survive a disaster. Emergency management personnel throughout the region urge citizens to take emergency planning seriously and prepare their households to be self-sufficient for a minimum of three days for minor inconveniences, and for several weeks following a catastrophic event. Tips for personal preparedness can be found at www.kingcounty.gov/prepare.

This week’s exercise was just the first of a three-part series this summer. Next week, the region will conduct Part 2 of Evergreen Quake 2012 during a logistics exercise to validate the combined local, state, and federal capacity to manage relief supplies after a major disaster. The series concludes in August with a recovery exercise. That event will evaluate short-term recovery issues, including temporary housing, debris removal, individual and family assistance and return of business; as well as address long-term issues, such as community restoration, economic revitalization, and reconstruction of critical infrastructure.

The Evergreen Quake Exercise Series is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for exercise design; the National Emergency Managers Association (NEMA) for exercise support; and many in-kind contributions by participating local, tribal, state, and federal agencies.

 

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