Washington Gov. Jay Inslee used a satellite phone to help kick off the Cascadia Rising megaquake and tsunami drill Tuesday. He urged people to be prepared for a disaster.
CAMP MURRAY — Even as soldiers and emergency responders teamed up for a massive megaquake and tsunami response drill, Gov. Jay Inslee stressed that Washingtonians must also prepare.
When the megaquake hits, “hundreds of thousands of people will have to wait days, weeks and months for their electricity to be restored,” Inslee said in a news conference to kick off Cascadia Rising.
“They will have to wait a considerable period of time to have water service to their homes,” he added. “So having a basic emergency kit in homes, in cars, in offices, is absolutely essential for everybody who lives in our great state.”
Inslee was at Camp Murray Tuesday for the kickoff of Cascadia Rising, the largest-ever drill conducted in the Pacific Northwest to test the response to a seismic event.
The drill includes thousands of military personnel and emergency responders reacting to a megaquake and tsunami that would dwarf the 2001 Nisqually quake.
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That earthquake measured a magnitude 6.8, but a Cascadia megaquake is expected to be a magnitude 9, or nearly 2,000 times more powerful.
A quake of that size — which the Cascadia Rising exercise simulates — will be closely followed by tsunamis 30 feet high or larger slamming into oceanfront communities.
“Bridges will fall, electrical grids will fail, buildings will come down and hospitals will be unusable,” Inslee said. “And millions of lives will be forever impacted.”
Such an earthquake occurred most recently in 1700 along the massive fault called the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Northwest coast.
During the drill, which runs through Friday, workers will staff emergency-operations centers across Washington, as well as in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. They’ll receive damage reports from the field and calls for help, and attempt to deal with power loss and communications issues.
“We’re exercising our ability to communicate with one another without the internet, without phone and cell service,” Inslee said.
Monday evening, Washington National Guard members used landing craft to deliver supplies to Vashon Island. Later this week, soldiers are scheduled to conduct an airborne operation to set up a mobile operations post.
On Tuesday, the State Emergency Operations Center — located at Camp Murray — hummed with activity as coordinators grappled with their simulated megaquake and subsequent tsunami.
In a wide-open room with clusters of staffers at computer stations and TV screens mounted high on the walls, Incident Commander Chris Utzinger read over a speaker system updates from the tsunami. A wave over 12 feet high had just slammed into the Grays Harbor County town of Westport.
In a small room down the hall, a team of radio operators hunched over banks of digital and analog radio equipment and passed along printout messages to the emergency responders.
Inslee himself got real about the drill by hauling out his satellite phone. The governor needed to call the U.S. Department of Defense to ask for help from the military.
“I said, ‘No, no, cellphones aren’t working,’ ” Inslee said. “So we dug out the sat phone.”
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“The sat phones work,” he said. “That’s good news already we’ve learned today.”