Cascadia Rising Exercise Tests Whatcom County Resilience

Cascadia Rising was the largest, most complex disaster simulation ever undertaken in Whatcom County. For more than 32 hours, 600 people from 92 organizations dealt with the effects of a simulated 9.0 earthquake and its resulting tsunami.

Cascadia Rising volunteers debrief at the end of the exercise

Cascadia Rising volunteers debrief at the end of the 32-hour exercise.

Groups like Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, the Red Cross and amateur radio operators spent the past two days testing their response times, skill sets and ability to respond to a simulated large-scale, regional disaster.

In Bellingham, four CERT groups with seven volunteers each surveyed 22 sites for possible damage, while personnel from Fire, Police and Public Works acted as Area Command. In addition, two Public Works teams of two people each checked 20 simulated damage sites.

“Our Bellingham CERT volunteers did an amazing job simulating damage assessments,” said Paul Gazdik, Bellingham’s Emergency Management Coordinator. “I hope more people will consider getting CERT trained so they’re prepared to help themselves and their neighbors when a real disaster strikes.”

Red Cross volunteers simulated assessing possible shelters to ensure they were fit for habitation, while more than 30 amateur radio operators tested their ability to communicate with one another from various locations across the County.

In addition to staffing the Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center (WUECC) communications room and mobile communications van, amateur radio operators supported Peace Health/St. Joseph Medical Center, the Bellingham Red Cross office, the County Search and Rescue Council, the Bellingham Fire Dept., the Ferndale Emergency Operations Center, and Sudden Valley.

Blaine ACS also had a large role in the exercise. “We had 12 operators staffing our radios and our communications van was deployed to investigate possible tsunami damage and investigate long-range radio communications options,” said Chris Doutre, Blaine ACS Manager. “I’m very grateful to the members of Blaine ACS for stepping up in this moment of great need in our community.”

The Volunteer Mobilization Center set up in the WUECC and 30 volunteers practiced screening, assessing special skills, handling background checks, reviewing safety procedures, and assigning volunteers to areas of the County as determined by the Sheriff’s Department.

During the exercise, the WUECC Incident Management Team responded to 556 different scenarios including the loss of almost every bridge over the Nooksack River (except one in Everson) and a tsunami that devastated the coastal areas of the County, including Bellingham Bay.

“This exercise has been an excellent test of Whatcom County’s ability to respond to a large-scale, regional earthquake,” said John Gargett, Deputy Director of the Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center. “The last 32 hours have given all the participants a lot to think about and plan for in the coming months.”

Some of the long-term issues Whatcom County would have to deal with after a large regional earthquake include widespread electricity outages, natural gas leaks, lack of drinking water due to infrastructure damage and sewage spills, providing long-term shelter for thousands of people, dwindling food and medical supplies, and the inability to do required medical procedures (chemo, dialysis, etc.) due to power outages.

To be prepared for such a large-scale disaster, residents should be able to care for themselves and their families for at least seven days, including having enough food and water on hand for that purpose. For more information on how to begin preparing yourself and your family, visit our Web site, www.whatcomready.org

The Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center is a partnership between the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, the City of Bellingham Office of Emergency Management, and several local jurisdictions, organizations, and agencies.

For more information, please visit:

facebook.com/pages/Whatcom-Unified-Emergency-Management

Twitter @WUEmergencyMgmt

 

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