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Cascadia Rising tests US and Canada

Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management National Operations Team Leader Jo Guard recently attended the International Observer Programme for Cascadia Rising – a major earthquake and tsunami exercise held in the US and Canada over the period 7-10 June 2016.

Jo is the Exercise Director for New Zealand’s Exercise Tangaroa – the national tsunami exercise to be held in August and September this year. She was invited to observe the Cascadia Rising exercise as part of the Ministry’s relationship with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The programme was based in Seattle, Washington, one of several US and Canadian States to take part in the exercise.  Seattle, sandwiched between the Cascadia Subduction Zone to the west and the Cascade Range to the east, is also nestled near some impressive snow-capped volcanic peaks, including Mount St Helen's and Mount Rainier. 

Large corporations such as Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks have made Seattle their base. The Port of Seattle, which also operates Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, is a major gateway for trade with Asia and cruises to Alaska, and is the 8th largest port in the United States in terms of container capacity.

Much of the downtown area, including the industrial areas such as the port and rail yards is situated on reclaimed land. It is expected that a large earthquake and resultant tsunami would devastate much of the Western coast of the United Sates, and the ripple effects would be felt not just through the United States, but the world.

International observers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Panama and Jordan were joined by representatives from the United States Postal Service and R3ady Asia Pacific (Asia Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience (APDR3) Network.)  Led by the FEMA’s International Division, the three day programme included visits to:

  • Camp Murray (located adjacent to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington and home to the Washington Army National Guard, Washington State Guard and the Washington Air National Guard)
  • Renton Municipal Airport where the group was briefed by the 81st Brigade Operations
  • King County Emergency Coordination and Communications Centers
  • Cascadia Rising Master Control Cell (exercise control base); and
  • FEMA Region X (10) Headquarters.

The purpose of the exercise was to improve joint operations.  Conducting successful life-saving and life-sustaining response operations in the aftermath of a Cascadian Subduction Zone disaster will hinge on the effective coordination and integration of governments at all levels – cities, counties, state agencies, federal officials, the military, tribal nations – as well as non-government organisations and the private sector. One of the core objectives of the exercise was to train and test the whole community approach to complex disaster operations together as a team.

Main focus areas were:

  • Operational communications
  • Public Health and Medical Services
  • Mass Care Services
  • Situational Assessment
  • Critical Transportation
  • Operational Coordination

Jo said “It was great to see over 50 counties, plus major cities, tribal nations, state and federal agencies, private sector businesses, and non-governmental organisations across three states – Washington, Oregon and Idaho working through some of the major challenges they would face.  In addition, British Columbia and the Government of Canada linked their earthquake readiness activities into the exercise.  Other key partners such as major US Military Commands conducted simulated strategic airlift and actual maritime disaster logistics exercises, along with National Guard field exercise play as part of Cascadia Rising. 

"There was coverage on TV each day/evening informing the public about what was going on in order to prompt preparedness and inform them about some of the activities that were quite visible. They also made good use of social media during the course of the exercise – especially with Twitter (#CascadiaRising).

"With our own version in the form of Exercise Tangaroa coming up in August and September this year it has certainly provided me with plenty to think about!”.

Scenario

The exercise was based on a magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), stretching from California all the way up to Washington State in the United States and into British Columbia in Canada. The resulting tsunami is the most complex disaster scenario that emergency management and public safety officials in the Pacific Northwest could face.

Emergency Operations and Coordination Centers (EOC/ECCs) at all levels of government and the private sector activated to conduct a simulated field response operation within their jurisdictions and with neighboring communities, state EOCs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and major military commands.

Map showing the location of the Cascadia Subduction Zone

The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of North America spans from northern California to southern British Columbia. This subduction zone can produce earthquakes as large as magnitude 9 and corresponding tsunamis. 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 fault occurred over 300 years ago in 1700.