BEND, Ore. - A 9.0 magnitude earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the resulting tsunami is the most complex disaster scenario that emergency management and public safety officials in the Pacific Northwest could face.
This week, a four-day exercise called Cascadia Rising 2016, will test emergency agencies' ability to respond to such a disaster.
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 of 9.0 rips along the Cascadia Subduction Zone 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.
All four of St. Charles Health System's hospitals will participate, along with numerous Central Oregon agencies and amateur-radio operators.
"St. Charles Health System will be expected to play a major role in the statewide response to this catastrophic event," said Ken Quiner, emergency management coordinator. "Our capabilities and resiliency will depend primarily on the personal readiness of each and every caregiver."
As part of the exercise, emergency operation and emergency coordination centers at all levels of government and the private sector will conduct a simulated field response operation within their jurisdictions and with neighboring communities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and major military commands.
The functional exercise starts across the Pacific Northwest at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, with a simulated transmission from the U.S. Geological Survey to local emergency operation centers. Those emergency operation centers will in turn notify all other participants that a simulated earthquake has occurred.
Even though the exercise will officially begin on Tuesday, Central Oregon counties and St. Charles Health System will not begin full participation in the functional portion of Cascadia Rising until Thursday, at 8 a.m.; the exercise will conclude at 5 p.m.
St. Charles leadership and managers will be expected to participate in various aspects of the exercise, but the intent is that it will not impact patient care, officials said.
Here's FEMA's news release on Cascadia Rising:
LARGE SCALE EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS EXERCISE STARTS TOMORROW
SEATTLE – Emergency Operations and Coordination Centers (EOC) at all levels of government and the private sector in Washington, Oregon and Idaho will activate June 7-10 as part of ‘Cascadia Rising,' a national level exercise that will simulate a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami along the Washington and Oregon coast. Thousands of people, including military personnel, will participate to test a joint response to one of the most complex disaster scenarios facing the Pacific Northwest.
"A 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake will be a disaster unlike anyone has ever seen," said Ken Murphy, Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 10. "Cascadia Rising will test our own preparedness. It is exercises like this, ahead of a disaster, that foster coordination and help build relationships before a real world event occurs."
"Oregon is looking forward to strengthening the partnerships with our local, tribal, state and federal partners through the Cascadia Rising exercise," said Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps. "This exercise gives Oregon, Washington, Idaho and FEMA Region 10 an invaluable opportunity to validate and improve upon the planning initiatives, training and other exercises we've undertaken over the past several years to prepare for the threat of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami.
"This exercise should also serve as a reminder to all Oregonians that individual and family emergency preparedness is key to augment an effective response to an earthquake or any disaster and begin the recovery process. Ultimately, the work we do leading up to the exercise and the lessons we learn in a controlled and evaluated environment will translate into lives saved during what could be the country's biggest disaster."
"We've worked tirelessly in Washington state to work with our partners and develop a response plan so we can immediately coordinate assistance and provide help following a catastrophic disaster," said Major General Bret Daugherty, director of the Washington Military Department and commander of the Washington National Guard. "Every exercise teaches us something and improves our response. I'm pleased so many partners are participating and are eager to collaborate with us so we can effectively carry out our mission to protect lives and property."
The predicted direct effects of a full CSZ earthquake end at the Cascade Mountains but the indirect effects will extend far beyond the mountain passes. Western Washington and Oregon will have the greatest impacts but eastern Washington and Oregon along with Idaho are important partners in the exercise and will be vital in a real world event.
"While Idaho is not inside the expected impact area, we want to make sure we are able to support our neighbors should a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami happen," said Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security Director Brad Richy. "Idaho's participation in the Cascadia Rising functional exercise is an effort to ensure the optimal level of readiness. IBHS is working with nine northern Idaho counties, the Department of Health and Welfare, all seven Idaho Public Health Districts, as well as Oregon and Washington to test our response. The level of cooperation between FEMA Region 10, and our neighboring states and exercise players, has been outstanding and we look forward to acting upon the lessons learned."
This exercise will seek to test plans and procedures through a 9.0M earthquake and follow-on tsunami with expectations to improve catastrophic disaster operational readiness across the whole community.
Cascadia Rising 2016 is in preparation for the long overdue Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake and consequent tsunami that may devastate the California, Oregon, Washington coastlines. Lying mostly offshore, the plate interface is a giant fault approximately 700 miles long. At this location, the set of tectonic plates to the west is sliding (subducting) beneath the North American plate. The movement of these two plates is neither constant nor smooth; ultimately, these plates are stuck. The stress is continuously building until the fault will suddenly break, resulting in an earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Cascadia Subduction Zone History
According to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network the last known CSZ megathrust earthquake occurred in January, 1700. Geological evidence indicates that 9.0M+ earthquakes have occurred at least seven times in the last 3,500 years which equates to an interval of 400 to 600 years between major tremors. As the CSZ follows this timeline, the Pacific Northwest should be preparing for the no-notice event through major exercises such as Cascadia Rising.