Cascadia Rising exercise data being crunched in Clallam County; communication already highlighted

By Chris McDaniel
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The sheer volume of data collected two weeks ago during the four-day Cascadia Rising exercise will take several months to compile into bite-sized portions, but organizers already know an emphasis on communications needs to take priority.

“The recommendation is we need to staff more amateur radio operators per command areas . . . for exercises and real events,” Jamye Wisecup, Clallam County Emergency Management Department program coordinator, said last week.

During the exercise — which spanned June 7-10 — organizers assessed how city, county, state and federal emergency responders would handle the inevitable tsunami, loss of power and broken landscape a massive earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone would cause in coastal communities throughout Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

The exercise focused on seven categories, Wisecup said: operational coordination, operational communications, critical transportation, public health and medical services, mass-care services, situational assessment and exercise design.

All seven categories have room for improvement, she said.

“Always,” Wisecup said. “That is why you” conduct such exercises and pour through the data afterward.

That was the case after action reports from actual natural disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Wisecup said.

Each report included a “bunch of new stuff you never thought about,” she said.

“Even if lives are lost, there are lessons learned. To me it is a continual learning [process]. We are getting so much better.”

That, she continued, is the point of exercises such as Cascadia Rising.

“Constantly being able to try and reduce the impact of natural disasters on our communities, that's what these things do,” she said.

Wisecup said the final version of the after action report won't be available until autumn, although she said she hopes to have information available by August to share with the three Clallam County commissioners.

“I am separating my data, which is stacks of input,” Wisecup said.

“I have tons of data and I put those into my improvement action plan, which is your after-action report, and it looks at like what objectives you were testing.”

Currently, it is difficult to identify exactly where improvements need to be made, she said, because the data is yet to be compiled.

Anecdotally, however, exercise coordinators already know they need more amateur radio operators, Wisecup said.

Situational assessment was difficult to achieve with “no cellphone or computer use,” she said.

One takeaway from this was the way exercise participants in Forks, who performed the exercise for one of the four days, rose to the challenge, she said.

“Forks just shined” in this category, she said, because they resorted to the use of runners to carry messages.

“They did it the way you were supposed to do it. They get a gold star.”

The exercise — which involved participants throughout Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia — was conducted in anticipation of a quake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The 800-mile fault, which stretches from southern British Columbia to Northern California, spawns massive earthquakes an average of once every 200 to 500 years, with the last in about 1700.

Immediately following the onset of such a catastrophe, area residents most likely would have to look to themselves and their neighbors for help.

The expectation is that telephone lines and roads would be heavily damaged or completely destroyed.

The director of Jefferson County Emergency Management, Bob Hamlin, said the exercise pointed out a need to use face-to-face contact to disseminate information.

During a real disaster, the agency would “embed” a local professional news reporter who would volunteer to broadcast information about the event, Hamlin said.

The content of that person's news reporting would be restricted.

“Everything that goes out will go through me,” Hamlin said.

“We have a list of rules as to what information goes on the air and what does not, and we won't allow a reporter to broadcast what is happening in real time.”

After a briefing, Hamlin directed an exercise in which five small groups were tasked with solving a specific problem: where to house and hold an estimated 8,000 homeless people.

One group, after making a list of all the needs, found few areas that could accommodate 8,000 people for six months.

They suggested that Chimacum's H.J. Carroll Park was itself too small, but a housing center could use adjoining areas such as the Chimacum High School athletic field.

Hamlin said he didn't expect the groups to come up with any new solutions.

“We need people to stop dealing with onesies and twosies and deal with the situation globally and strategically,” he said of the small groups' members.

“They won't have to make decisions, that's my job, but I want them to have some sensitivity as to why we make those decisions.”

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Reporter Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant contributed to this story.

Last modified: June 26. 2016 6:48PM
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