A massive 4-day drill involving 23,000 participants from 3 states, including officials from the U.S. and British Columbian governments, was recently conducted in the Pacific Northwest. The drill, developed by FERC and called “Cascadia Rising,” involved a megaquake and tsunami scenario that has the potential to kill 14,000 people and damage 7,000 bridges and 16,000 miles of roadway.
The drill identified a ton of planning gaps and potential improvements. In fact, the drill identified so many holes that the State of Washington issued a report calling its own response plans “grossly inadequate” and warning that “the state is at risk of a humanitarian disaster within 10 days” of a megaquake.
The report goes on to say that the state’s own laws could actually prevent officials from getting medical supplies to hard-hit areas. It also states that there is no long term strategy in place to facilitate economic recovery and restoration from a megaquake.
Although Washington State was most critical of its own level of emergency preparedness, none of the other participating states got off unscathed. Across all states, lack of resources, inadequate communications, inability to efficiently reopen damaged roadways, and lack of proper prioritization techniques were common themes.
The good news is that these issues were identified during an exercise and drill and not during a real emergency. Hopefully the lessons-learned will be used to optimize plans, processes and protocols going forward. That said, megaquake hardening tactics were recommended in a 2012 report from the State of Washington, but the recommendations were never implemented. One can only hope that this time will be different.