By Jeremy Schwartz and Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Thousands of residents across the North Olympic Peninsula took part Thursday in the Great Washington ShakeOut earthquake drill.
People young and old, in schools libraries and county offices, “dropped, covered and held on” to something to practice responding to an actual quake.
Emergency sirens blared for a full three minutes starting at 10:17 a.m., followed by a verbal message explaining where people could learn more if the test had been an actual emergency.
Jayme Wisecup, program coordinator for Clallam County Emergency Management, said 7,989 Clallam County residents had signed up at www.shakeout.org/washington to take part in the drill as of Wednesday.
Bob Hamlin, director of the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management, said his group did not know how many Jefferson County residents participated.
But Hamlin said that statewide, some 1 million people did.
Hamlin said after the drill Thursday that the four sirens in Jefferson County — three near Port Townsend in East Jefferson County and one at the Hoh reservation in West Jefferson County — went off as planned.
Some reported that they could not fully understand the spoken message that followed the siren wail.
“[The voice message] has never really worked terribly well, but the sirens worked well,” Hamlin said, adding that he was satisfied with the overall drill and the response to it.
Only one person was reported having called 9-1-1 emergency dispatchers in Jefferson County about the sirens.
“We obviously didn’t create too big of a stir,” Hamlin said.
This year’s “ShakeOut” was the first in which staff and patrons of the North Olympic Library System took part, said Jina Felton, the Port Angeles Library’s circulation lead and chairwoman of the system’s staff health and safety committee.
Felton began planning a systemwide earthquake drill response last year.
Drills were planned in each of the four public libraries under the system’s purview, which are in Port Angeles, Sequim, Forks and Clallam Bay.
Felton said she worked with staff through a “tabletop” drill earlier this year in which they discussed what to do in various earthquake scenarios.
“It was a really eventful discussion,” Felton said, “so I’m glad we did it.”
Felton said she saw about two library visitors in the Port Angeles Library take part in the drill along with the branch’s staff.
For future drills, Felton said she thinks collaboration with other organizations, such as school districts, on getting the word out could make more people at least consider what they would do during an earthquake, even if they don’t participate in the drill.
“I think that’s the important part, to get people thinking [about it],” Felton said.
Patrick Driggers, a customer service specialist at the Sequim Library, said between six and seven people, counting visitors and staff, participated.
“We got a pretty good response, but we didn’t have too many people in the library at that moment,” Driggers said.
Staff at both the Forks and Clallam Bay libraries also dropped, covered and held. One patron was at the Forks Library, which is now in a temporary location, and none was at the Clallam Bay facility.
All North Olympic Peninsula school districts reported that they took part in the disaster drill, to various degrees.
Brinnon, Crescent, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Quilcene and Sequim school districts each reported participation, and representatives of private schools Queen of Angels School in Port Angeles and Five Acre School in Sequim said those who heard the sirens followed drill instructions.
Clallam Bay and Neah Bay schools in the Cape Flattery School District completed the standard “drop, cover and hold on” instructions as well as a full tsunami evacuation drill.
Students, escorted by firefighters and law enforcement officers, hiked from the low-lying school buildings to higher elevations, said Superintendent Kandy Ritter.
“I just had the principals’ reports. They reported that everything went very well,” she said.
Quillayute Valley School District — which has a new Forks High School building, a new principal at Forks Elementary School and a new emergency plan — had some problems, said Superintendent Diana Reaume.
“It was a little shaky,” Reaume said.
“It was good to have the practice, to find the problems with the plan and fix it before the real thing happens,” she said.
In Chimacum, officials reported that drill students and staff performed extremely well.
“At Chimacum Middle School, they reported that it was one of the best drills they ever did,” said Assistant Superintendent Art Clarke.
Marty Martinez, campus safety operations manager for Peninsula College, said about 1,100 students, faculty and staff were on the Port Angeles campus when the sirens sounded.
Students, faculty and staff sheltered inside briefly before evacuating campus buildings to go to predetermined meeting points.
“It went really well,” Martinez said.
The college’s automated emergency alert system “PC Alert Me” also sent out 3,208 text messages, emails and voice messages to those who had registered for alerts.
Messages were received at an average of eight minutes after they went out at 10:17 a.m., Martinez said, something he intends to work to improve for future drills.
This year’s ShakeOut was also a first for Peninsula College, Martinez said, adding that his department is planning to host some sort of emergency or evacuation each quarter.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com