Cascadia Rising: City dives into disaster planning with earthquake exercise

The logistics section coordinates the response.
The logistics section coordinates the response.

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake didn’t happen on Tuesday–but Lynnwood police, fire and other crews got together and coordinated a response as though it had.

It is a part of a drill in which several local jurisdictions along the Cascadia Subduction Zone participated, called Cascadia Rising. Scientific evidence indicates that a magnitude 8.0-9.0 earthquake occurs along the 800-mile long fault on average once every 200 to 500 years. The last major earthquake and tsunami along the Cascadia fault occurred over 300 years ago in 1700.


Screenshot (427)In the scenario on Wednesday morning, the day after the hypothetical “Big One” bridges are out, communications are down and resources are tapped. So, now what?

The drill in Lynnwood began on the day after a disaster. On day one, crews would have gone into collapsed buildings and rescued survivors. On day two, crews need to evaluate their priorities.

“Today, we are getting a feel for what happened yesterday. We provide coordination for crews in the field,” Lynnwood Assistant Fire Chief Tod Gates said.

Crews inside Lynnwood Fire Station 15, including police, fire, public works, community development, finance, public works, economic development and executive departments, are focused, evaluating the resources they have and which resources they need.

“The resources we would normally depend on are tapped out,” Gates said.

Asst. Chief Tod Gates (center left) gives instructions to the planning section.
Asst. Chief Tod Gates (center left) gives instructions to the planning section.

So, how will they get things like heavy machinery, or additional long-term shelter for people whose homes are destroyed? How will they get more basic supplies when they run out?

“We go to the county, then the county goes to the state, and we need to prioritize our response,” Gates said.

If bridges are collapsed and railways are damaged, crews would also need to coordinate helicopter drop points with FEMA to receive basic supplies as they continue their response.

The drill was designed to get local jurisdictions thinking about disaster response before the actual response is needed.

“It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and make a plan,” Lynnwood Fire Chief Scott Cockrum said.

Gates said being prepared is the best way to respond effectively.

“Recovery planning always starts in preparedness,” Gates said. “During response, we are always thinking about what the end looks like, always thinking about what ‘normal’ is, and how do we get there.”

One of the trickiest parts of the drill, Gates said, is figuring out what to do when not only Lynnwood is out of resources, but the city’s neighbors are also out of resources, like what would happen in the case of a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“We need to look at, here’s where the holes are. When everybody’s stuff is broken, it’s a whole different paradigm,” Gates said.

State Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle) stopped by during the drill. She found Lynnwood’s police and fire crews “impressive.”

“This is something we are likely to face in the future, and being prepared is critical,” Kagi said. “The fact that police and fire are working together is important.”

–Story and photos by Natalie Covate

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