Disaster Drill Shows Washington State is Unprepared for a Megaquake

A four-day disaster drill conducted in June found that the state of Washington is grossly unprepared for a Cascadia megaquake and tsunami. The drill was the largest ever of its kind in the Pacific Northwest with 23,000 participants involved in responding to the hypothetical disaster.

Officials from the state of Washington warned in a report that should such a natural disaster occur, “the state is at risk of a humanitarian disaster within 10 days.” According to the report, the state’s current laws could inhibit the ability for medical resources to get to those injured in such a catastrophe. It also cited that the state does not have an effective long-term recovery plan in place to rebuild the economy in the aftermath.

The drill, named “Cascadia Rising” took participants through the events that would occur in the event of a megaquake including loss of power, road blockages and knocked out communications. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed the disaster scenario based on the assumption that the death toll would reach 14,000 if a magnitude 9 quake and tsunami took place. In addition, it estimates that there would be more than 30,000 injuries in Oregon and Washington along with damage to 16,000 miles of roads.

“Cascadia Rising” revealed a deeply insufficient communications system. Current plans require that federal and state responders must receive assistance requests before being dispatched. During a large-scale disaster that would result in massive communication blackouts, this plan would leave thousands without help.

Emergency officials are now tasked with anticipating community needs and having supplies and personnel ready to assist. “What you have on hand when this occurs is how you’re going to survive,” said Barb Graff, Seattle Emergency Management Director.

Washington Emergency Management Director, Robert Ezelle, said that the severity of devastation would cause an immediate and overwhelming need for assistance. He admitted that the drill gave emergency officials a new perspective and officials will use the results from the drill to improve its disaster planning.