Public Service

Responders Review Lessons of Massive Quake Exercises

By James T. McKenna | June 23, 2016


Emergency-response leaders in the U.S. and Canada are reviewing lessons from one of the world's largest earthquake simulations, including ones on the role of helicopters in recovery from a massive disaster.

Commercial, public service and military helicopters joined in parallel, coordinated exercises conducted earlier this month by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Canadian province of British Columbia. 

The exercises came as at least two public-agency helicopter units in the region, those in Washington's King County and Snohomish County, face the prospect of major budget cuts that could shut them down.

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Dubbed Cascadia Rising 2016 in the U.S. and Exercise Coastal Response in Canada, the exercises were built on the assumption that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck 95 mi off the coast of Oregon.

The quake's epicenter was set in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault line that runs from Northern California to northern Vancouver Island. The temblor and a resulting tsunami were assumed to have devastated vast areas of Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. In particular, the disaster was projected to wipe out much of the region's road networks and airports. Staging areas and tactical operations centers were set up at distant airfields that would be expected to survive the earthquake.

More than 8 million people live in the region, which includes the population centers of Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Emergency-response leaders from U.S. and Canadian agencies and native tribes in the U.S. and Canada spent several years planning for the exercises, which ran June 7 to 11. Organizers estimated 20,000 people participated in the exercise. 

The exercises' purpose was to test the ability of disparate organizations to coordinate their response efforts to minimize loss of life and damages, communicate without the internet or phones, deliver services in emergency conditions, and perform search and rescue, decontamination and evacuation activities.

Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter

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