Meadow Creek Park Emergency Planning and Information
How can we make it alone? That's right - us. Our neighbors and our own personal 'First Responders'.
Before you begin reading this I wish to point out the purpose and focus of this posting. Please keep in mind this is NOT a ‘Chicken Little’ the sky is falling printing. As you read this it will be real easy to begin to get that sense. So right from the get-go I want to point out that this IS – deliberately – designed to give a true sense of what FEMA has taught us about the POSSIBLE outcome of a major Cascadia Subduction Zone event. This is data FEMA has collected from samples and geologic records – as much as they exist that is. You can get another perspective on this event by downloading a PDF at: http://www.crew.org/sites/default/files/cascadia_subduction_scenario_2013.pdf
So with this disclaimer – it is time to read below. Hopefully my words, and the PDF above will not be taken as a scare tactic, but rather a very real and present danger that we as a group can help mitigate with some personal preparation techniques.
How likely are we here in the Pacific Northwest to see a MAJOR disaster in our lifetime?
In June this past year (2016) FEMA conducted a week long emergency simulation designed to represent the Cascadia Subduction Zone 'slip'. This is an event that roughly has a frequency of from 300 to 500 years, one was known to have a mere 100 years between events and some events appear to be 600 years apart. In this scenario FEMA took the 'we are due now' approach based on the 300 years between events. The last Subduction event happened on Jan 26, 1700 at approximately 9:00 PM. The expected quake will be 9.0 +, and if you remember the Nisqually quake in 2001, it was a M 6.8. On the seismic scale this quake is expected to be 251 times BIGGER and 3981 times stronger. (To see where this number comes from just visit the USGS WEB site and key in a 9.2 compared to the 6.8 at https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/calculator.php ) It is expected to last 3 to 5 minutes.
So the likelihood that we as adults will see this event is relatively likely, but far more likely for our children and of course WAY more likely for our grand children. As our children grow up they need to have an awareness of disaster preparedness and the tools needed to help survive. If their parents (that’s us – today) instill a sense and some understanding about disaster preparedness then it will hopefully imprint a 'prepare my own family as my parents did'. The then would lead to helping your grand children as well. This is why I believe right now it is so important to get involved in disaster preparedness. Schools do a lot of things right in this area, there is a bit of preparedness education in most states. There is of course much press and online ‘surfing’ that can also give information. That is all real good stuff, but pails in comparison to actually SEEING and WITNESSING adults taking actual steps in the right direction.
What might a major disaster look like?
In the FEMA sponsored simulation I mentioned above they made some assumptions about the effects we will likely face. They assumed there would be no communications via cell phone and emergency services would be non-existent for an extended period of time. It was felt that these were very real and past/proven realities. Everything from disasters in Fl from Hurricanes, to Katrina, to CA earth quake lesions and our own Nisqually and OSO lessons learned. And this Subduction Zone disaster - when it happens – will dwarf all of those disasters.
So lets talk Fire department operations for example. While I was in my CERT training, taken at the Fire Station 51 in Kenmore, we were introduced to the directive that is given – not only to the Fire personnel but to the Police as well. After they get their own Fire Station assessment of damage done they go into a Triage activity. Now realize I skipped one VERY important issue and that is the personnel themselves. Between the Fire station assessment and the beginning of Triage the personnel will be making sure their own bodies and family members are safe. BIG problem if communications are down.
Anyway, after these initial steps have been completed they will go into Triage. What this means is assessing roads for accessibility, what’s up what’s down, a drive by and RECORDING fires and emergency needs. Notice I said RECORDING this information. Your home could be fully involved as you see them and try to wave them down but they will not stop. There will be MANY fires and disaster situations all around them. The Fire department official giving that talk said he will personally find that the hardest thing to do – they FIGHT fires, but simply writing down there IS a fire and keep going – well it just doesn’t seem right. But it is their job at this point. The Police have a similar directive, but we did not have a representative from the department there to explain what it is.
Next, after the Triage is done (which could take HOURS to complete - or days if roads are blocked limiting travel - and based on damage) they are tasked with making sure Hospitals, Schools, emergency buildings such as the FEMA base etc are in tack and don’t require Fire services. That could be done to some extent by the local HAM operators – like me. FEMA will activate the RACES HAM operations as soon as communications by any other means proves impossible. Those of us in RACES have to take it upon ourselves to turn on our radios and be prepared to take directives.
Finally the emergency services will begin to branch out to communities as much as is possible. Emergency services in this example are Fire, Police, Medical and Utilities. As we saw in the CA wild fires some areas are left to burn – some decisions on some level will be made to pick-and-chose those. As we saw in CA even a few Fire Fighters themselves lost their homes – sacrificed to protect others.
What wasn’t explained was the ‘how’ do off duty emergency personnel get contacted to come in, or even arrive if roads are impassable. The answer was it is just up to the situation and the person themselves. All emergency service personnel know they have to take care of themselves first – we don’t want first responders becoming victims themselves, that serves no purpose, in fact makes the situation worse. Then their families – an emergency responder can’t do their job if they aren’t comfortable with the safety of the family unit. It was pointed out that in many of the disasters nation wide emergency responders often find a way in even if it’s on foot.
What can we do to help this?
First is of course to become disaster prepared and have a plan. There are many different aspects to planning. We can do this by taking classes such as MYN (Map Your Neighborhood), becoming a CERT, if you are already a HAM operator join your local emergency coalition – such as our NEMCo (Northshore Emergency Management Coalition), read online what to do etc. The most important thing to note is that after a major event such as the first 60 minutes is most crucial. We know for a fact that no emergency assistance will be available within 60 minutes even if the power and cell phone activity still exists. We just had a speaker in our last NEMCo meeting from the Washington State Fusion center. One of the slides he showed us was that there is only 1 police office for every 780 citizens in this state. That is the number of officers – period – that means that roughly only 1/3 of them are on duty at any one time, so you can see that ratio is MUCH higher at any given time. Then even if they could get 100% of the emergency responders on post the number of hours they can be awake and alert is finite. We NEED to be self sufficient as a neighborhood. FEMA advertises on most of their sites that we need to be prepared to be on our own for 3 days. That is in a normal disaster – as if any disaster is normal – but does not include a disasters such as the Cascadia Subduction Zone event. In this event we COULD be looking at response times measured in months. Most certainly weeks was a time frame that we were told is reasonable to expect.
This one piece is from an article in the NewYorker Titled The Really Big One
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compression wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compression waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.
Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, canisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.
Across the region, other, larger structures will also start to fail. Until 1974, the state of Oregon had no seismic code, and few places in the Pacific Northwest had one appropriate to a magnitude-9.0 earthquake until 1994. The vast majority of buildings in the region were constructed before then. Ian Madin, who directs the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimates that seventy-five per cent of all structures in the state are not designed to withstand a major Cascadia quake. FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. So will half of all highway bridges, fifteen of the seventeen bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.
Certain disasters stem from many small problems conspiring to cause one very large problem. For want of a nail, the war was lost; for fifteen independently insignificant errors, the jetliner was lost. Subduction-zone earthquakes operate on the opposite principle: one enormous problem causes many other enormous problems. The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone, the city’s emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people. So is Oregon’s critical energy-infrastructure hub, a six-mile stretch of Portland through which flows ninety per cent of the state’s liquid fuel and which houses everything from electrical substations to natural-gas terminals. Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.
Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible. For the seventy-one thousand people who live in Cascadia’s inundation zone, that will mean evacuating in the narrow window after one disaster ends and before another begins. They will be notified to do so only by the earthquake itself—“a vibrate-alert system,” Kevin Cupples, the city planner for the town of Seaside, Oregon, jokes—and they are urged to leave on foot, since the earthquake will render roads impassable. Depending on location, they will have between ten and thirty minutes to get out. That time line does not allow for finding a flashlight, tending to an earthquake injury, hesitating amid the ruins of a home, searching for loved ones, or being a Good Samaritan. “When that tsunami is coming, you run,” Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), says. “You protect yourself, you don’t turn around, you don’t go back to save anybody. You run for your life.”
The time to save people from a tsunami is before it happens, but the region has not yet taken serious steps toward doing so. Hotels and businesses are not required to post evacuation routes or to provide employees with evacuation training. In Oregon, it has been illegal since 1995 to build hospitals, schools, firehouses, and police stations in the inundation zone, but those which are already in it can stay, and any other new construction is permissible: energy facilities, hotels, retirement homes. In those cases, builders are required only to consult with DOGAMI about evacuation plans. “So you come in and sit down,” Ian Madin says. “And I say, ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ And you say, ‘Thanks. Now we’ve consulted.’ ”
These lax safety policies guarantee that many people inside the inundation zone will not get out. Twenty-two per cent of Oregon’s coastal population is sixty-five or older. Twenty-nine per cent of the state’s population is disabled, and that figure rises in many coastal counties. “We can’t save them,” Kevin Cupples says. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll go around and check on the elderly.’ No. We won’t.” Nor will anyone save the tourists. Washington State Park properties within the inundation zone see an average of seventeen thousand and twenty-nine guests a day. Madin estimates that up to a hundred and fifty thousand people visit Oregon’s beaches on summer weekends. “Most of them won’t have a clue as to how to evacuate,” he says. “And the beaches are the hardest place to evacuate from.”
Those who cannot get out of the inundation zone under their own power will quickly be overtaken by a greater one. A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. Its height will vary with the contours of the coast, from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.
To see the full scale of the devastation when that tsunami recedes, you would need to be in the international space station. The inundation zone will be scoured of structures from California to Canada. The earthquake will have wrought its worst havoc west of the Cascades but caused damage as far away as Sacramento, California—as distant from the worst-hit areas as Fort Wayne, Indiana, is from New York. FEMA expects to coordinate search-and-rescue operations across a hundred thousand square miles and in the waters off four hundred and fifty-three miles of coastline. As for casualties: the figures I cited earlier—twenty-seven thousand injured, almost thirteen thousand dead—are based on the agency’s official planning scenario, which has the earthquake striking at 9:41 A.M. on February 6th. If, instead, it strikes in the summer, when the beaches are full, those numbers could be off by a horrifying margin. (NOTE: These casualty numbers are constantly updated . The last I saw was ~30 thousand to 60 thousand if NOT during a summer month - and scores of injured. That is in the immediate 'strike period'. Over the course of a few weeks - due to lack of services - the number raises into the hundreds of thousands. We need to prepare so we are not included in that statistic.)
Wineglasses, antique vases, Humpty Dumpty, hip bones, hearts: what breaks quickly generally mends slowly, if at all. OSSPAC estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. On the coast, those numbers go up. Whoever chooses or has no choice but to stay there will spend three to six months without electricity, one to three years without drinking water and sewage systems, and three or more years without hospitals. Those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-inundation zone, which will remain all but uninhabitable for years.
How much all this will cost is anyone’s guess; FEMA puts every number on its relief-and-recovery plan except a price. But whatever the ultimate figure—and even though U.S. taxpayers will cover seventy-five to a hundred per cent of the damage, as happens in declared disasters—the economy of the Pacific Northwest will collapse. Crippled by a lack of basic services, businesses will fail or move away. Many residents will flee as well. OSSPAC predicts a mass-displacement event and a long-term population downturn. Chris Goldfinger didn’t want to be there when it happened. But, by many metrics, it will be as bad or worse to be there afterward.
NOTE: Some have questioned these damage estimates - they seem rather high. If you remember the Nisqally quake of 2001 it was devastating at 6.8. This event is expected to be in the 9.2 range. If you go to the USGS 'How much bigger' calculator you can get an idea of what the difference would be. In this case from 6.8 to 9.2 is 251 times bigger and 3981 times more powerful. The models run by many agencies - including FEMA - give the scenarios as described above. The WEB site is: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/calculator.php