CAMP MURRAY, Wash. (AP) – The Pacific Northwest kicks off a massive earthquake and tsunami drill Tuesday as part of a multi-day event to rehearse scenarios on how the region would deal with a dual natural disaster that could kill thousands, cut off coastal communities, and collapse phone and internet service.
The four-day event, called Cascadia Rising, is built around the premise of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake 95 miles off of the coast of Oregon that results in a tsunami. Both events would likely destroy buildings, roads and buildings and disrupt communications.
Federal officials say about 20,000 people will be involved in the disaster drill, representing various federal agencies, the U.S. military, and state and local emergency response managers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Native American tribes and emergency management officials in British Columbia.
One main goal of the exercise is to test how well they will work together to minimize loss of life and damages when a mega-quake rips along the Cascadia Subduction Zone – a 600-mile-long fault just off the coast that runs from Northern California to British Columbia – and unleashes a tsunami. More than 8 million people live in the zone, which contains the most heavily populated areas of the Pacific Northwest, including Seattle and Portland.
Officials will be running off of the assumption that there will be mass casualties, including 1,100 killed by the earthquake, 13,000 killed by the tsunami and 24,000 injured. During this week’s drill, National Guard soldiers in Washington state will run airborne operations, including dropping supplies to set up a mobile operations center and deliver medical supplies. Other participants in the exercise will contact emergency management offices with reports of specific needs during the simulated disaster, and amateur radio operators will take part, as it’s expected they can help bridge the gaps for emergency officials if internet and phone services are severed.
Washington state has the most participants in the exercise, numbering more than 9,600 people, of which 2,300 will be from the National Guard. About 8,300 participants from the Department of Defense are involved as well.
In Oregon, where more than 1,400 people will participate, and some of the drills there will include pulling people out of a pile of rubble that simulates a collapsed building and triaging them for medical care.