Don’t panic, it’s just a big disaster drill in Maple Valley, Covington
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
August 23, 2012 · Updated 1:51 PM
If you wake up to see helicopters in the sky Wednesday and fire engines blaring outside your home, just know it’s only a drill, a really big one.
The Kent, Maple Valley and Black Diamond fire departments will all participate in a large scale regional exercise in the Maple Valley area on Aug. 29.
The exercise will simulate a breach in the Howard Hanson Dam, which would cause the Green River to flood the surrounding areas. The exercise will utilize a mobile State Department of Emergency Management (DEM) Air Branch to coordinate the deployment of all regional aviation assets in support of anticipated local mission requests.
Moore explained that the UASI is made up of cities where potential disasters, either natural or terrorist attacks, would require the response of multiple agencies on a very large scale.
“This all came about because of Sept. 11.,” Moore said. “The federal government decided this is something where the federal government can’t save everyone, especially early on in a disaster. They realized the regions have to be able to handle it themselves…so they set up a system of cities or regions considered areas where they wanted to give money to to train, test give equipment, resources to ... what it requires is each jurisdiction got a different piece of equipment or material. One agency cannot handle it all itself. It’s going to require all these agencies to work together.”
One such example, Moore pointed out, is coordinating air support. While the SFD has a helicopter rescue team, it doesn’t have a helicopter and thus relies on other agencies, such as the King County Sheriff’s Office, to carry out rescue operations.
With the exercise happening all over King County, Moore said people should know in advance so they don’t misinterpret it as an actual natural disaster or emergency.
“You’re going to see a lot of law enforcement, fire fighters and aircraft in the air,” he said. “We don’t want people to be alarmed or people jamming 911.”
Each agency will have its own unique scenario within the exercise. According to Capt. Ken Whitmore, firefighters from the Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety will assist in the evacuation via airlift of a victim swept down the Green River that managed to get on shore but is unable to walk.
Unable to access the victim due to the hypothetical “flooded” roads, firefighters will use a helicopter to airlift the victim from an area off of Cedar Grove Road and transport him to Tahoma Junior High.
Some agencies, however, Moore said, keep the exact nature of the scenarios secret from the participants in order to gauge their response.
“Certain agencies are telling them exactly what to face while other agencies are not telling them what to face,” Moore said. “It just depends on the different agencies. There have been multiple agencies working on the same scenario. It depends on how the agency wants to train their personnel.”
Moore stated that during a drill in Bellevue that simulated a shooter at Bellevue High School, the firefighters were told what to expect, but the Seattle Police were not.
Whitmore said the exercise also gives the fire departments that don’t have helicopter rescue teams the opportunity to practice calling in air support during emergency or disaster situations. They will also know what information to provide so the best aircraft with the appropriate equipment is sent. He added that aircraft use UHF radios, while most fire departments utilize 800 megahertz radio. This requires “patching” through for the aircraft to communicate with the ground crews, which will be done through Valley Communications Center.
“All of it is testing systems so when a real disaster occurs that this will be more automatic and it won’t be chaos and we’ll know how to work together,” Moore said. “We know who they are and what radio signals to work off of and how to form an incident command. That’s something that needs to be practiced so it becomes second nature.”
The exercise will be utilizing a variety of fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial systems drones and ground support units. To prepare for the exercise, the agencies participated in a daylong training event, practicing operational procedures with air assets July 30 near Auburn. Crews were air hoisted into helicopters and trained on the use of the an airborne tactical extrication platform, also called an AIRTEP.
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.