As part of the Cascadia Rising earthquake drill, military crews and other first-responder crews assembled emergency docks, piers and other needed facilities.
INDIAN ISLAND, Jefferson County — A Cascadia megaquake will devastate ports across the Northwest at a time when the region is in desperate need of supply shipments.
Delivering cargo under difficult conditions is something the military knows how to do.
So that expertise is being tested this week, as Navy, Army, Marine and Coast Guard units from across the country participate in the biggest disaster drill in Northwest history.
The Cascadia Rising exercise is meant to simulate response to a monster earthquake and tsunami. With roads and airports heavily damaged, one of the best ways to deliver food, heavy equipment and other gear will be by water, Capt. Greg Vinci, of the U.S. Naval Construction Force, or Seabees, said Wednesday during a tour of several operations.
If ports, docks and piers are unusable, the Navy can make its own, Vinci explained.
“We provide that link from ship to shore.”
At Naval Magazine Indian Island, a munitions storage depot near Port Townsend, the Navy has deployed several small landing craft and portable docks, called causeway ferries.
On Wednesday, crews loaded shipping containers on and off the vessels with fat-wheeled cranes designed to move cargo over rough terrain.
A 500-person encampment, with row upon row of green tents, supports the operation. The camp took about a week to set up, said Navy Lt. Andrew Anderson. The complex comes complete with portable showers, a kitchen, mess hall and diesel-powered generators to keep the lights and computers humming.
The vessels, camp gear and other equipment were shipped from Naval Base Coronado in San Diego on the USNS Bob Hope.
The 1,000-foot-long ship is essentially a floating warehouse, with 380,000 square feet of storage space, Anderson said.
In war, the ship and others like it are used to deliver tanks, trucks and military supplies. In peacetime, the design is ideal for delivering humanitarian aid. Several similar ships, fully stocked with emergency supplies, are positioned around the globe, Anderson said.
Also being tested at Indian Island is a portable fuel-delivery system. The Inland Petroleum Distribution System provides bulk fuel storage and can serve as a kind of temporary gas station when fuel pipelines are severed — as expected in a Cascadia quake.
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For the exercise, two 50,000-gallon bladders were laid out on the beach, filled with water, and hooked up to hundreds of feet of pipeline.
A full-scale system can cover 40 acres and has a capacity of 3.8 million gallons, said Army Staff Sgt. Christifer Graham. The pipeline can be extended up to 250 miles.
At the Port of Port Angeles, special teams from the Washington National Guard practiced the type of decontamination operations that will be needed after a major quake and tsunami.
Surges of 20 feet or more could hit the harbor on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, turning mills, factories, fuel tanks, cars and houses into a slurry of chemical-laden debris, officials explained.
Much of the waterfront, which is built on fill, will also liquefy in the shaking.
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Fire and rescue crews and cleanup workers will all need to be decontaminated after being exposed to the mess.
A few hardy Guardsmen volunteered to be sluiced off Wednesday in a yellow shower tent erected on the muddy shore. Crews also practiced hosing down a firetruck.
Several Clallam County officials took a break from their own Cascadia Rising response drill to observe the operations.
Penny Linterman, of Clallam County Emergency Management, said it will be great to have the military pitch in after a major disaster.
But even military resources will be spread thin after a Cascadia megaquake and tsunami, with devastation across Washington, Oregon and Northern California, she pointed out.
And military forces can be slow to mobilize.
Setting up a full-scale network of temporary docks and vessels can take four to six weeks.
“The military can do amazing things,” Linterman said. “But it takes time.”