Health & Education

Tribal exercise will help prepare for subduction zone earthquake

05.13.2016 Dean Rhodes Health & Wellness, Events, Public Safety

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde will join the state, surrounding counties and fire districts, and Oregon’s eight other federally recognized Tribes in a four-day exercise from Tuesday, June 7, through Friday, June 10, to prepare for a potentially catastrophic earthquake occurring off the Pacific Ocean coast.

Dubbed “Cascadia Rising,” the area-wide exercise will simulate a full rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone causing a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami along the Oregon coast. The simulation also will take into account the thousands of aftershocks that would probably follow such a geological event.

If an earthquake of that magnitude occurred, emergency management officials expect substantial damage to infrastructure in western Washington and Oregon, including many highway overpasses and bridges collapsing, which would cause travel restrictions throughout the Pacific Northwest and affect delivery of everything from food to fuel to medical supplies.

Significant transportation infrastructure damage also could strand Pacific Northwest residents in their own “islands” – areas isolated by roadways that are impassable.

The exercise will start on Tuesday, June 7, with Tribal employees practicing immediate reaction to an earthquake by stopping, dropping and holding on wherever they are. A subduction zone earthquake is expected to be felt all the way to the Cascade Mountains and could last anywhere from four to six minutes.

Tribal employees also have been encouraged to conduct a Hazard Hunt – looking for office furniture and items that could fall and injure them during an earthquake.

On Wednesday, June 8, the Tribe will practice communications with Tribal satellite phones and ham radios being tested to see if Grand Ronde could communicate with the rest of the state after an earthquake. Grand Ronde is the western Oregon hub of the new Oregon Amateur Radio Tribal Network while Warm Springs is the hub for eastern Oregon Tribes.

The big event will occur 8 a.m. to noon Thursday, June 9, when sites on the Tribal campus will be set up for mass casualty care. Tribal Health & Wellness Center staff will triage and care for a large number of “injured” actors and there also will be training in loading and unloading a medical helicopter that will land, weather permitting, in the large field in front of the Governance Center.

Tribal Elders will be participating, led by Gladys Hobbs, and a video will be created for the deaf community. Local Community Emergency Response Team members will be activated and Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps will attend the exercise in Grand Ronde.

Tribal Council also will be trained on how to do a disaster declaration aided by Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Biesack, who received training on the process before the exercise.

Friday, June 10, will be a wrap-up day, during which participants will meet and discuss what went right and what needs to be improved.

Tribal Emergency Operations Coordinator Jamie Baxter has been working for several months with a planning team consisting of Tribal colleagues, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, West Valley Fire District personnel, local media and church representatives, and Yamhill County staff to plan the exercise.

Baxter said the exercise is a “no fault” event that will concentrate on training and educating participants about what to do in the event of a large disaster.

She added that the Tribe has been working consistently over the last two years to improve its emergency response capabilities, holding Community Emergency Response Team classes, a ham radio course, a class in trauma life support and a final course in basic disaster life support for the Health & Wellness Center staff and local CERT members.

Planning Department Director Rick George also attended training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute in Maryland to prepare for his role as planning section chief during the exercise.

“This is the first time all Oregon Tribes have worked as a team on an exercise,” Baxter said. “The theme is ‘Be Prepared Not Scared.’ Exercises such as this help us become resilient as a community and as a Tribal Nation, ensuring our recovery from this event and others like it.”