Part of this week’s drill of the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake and Tsunami Response Plan included the deployment of a California Air National Guard Ch-47 Chinook helicopter to Ward Field airport in Gasquet.
Ward Field is expected to be a “point of distribution” or POD to deliver food, medical supplies and other resources to the mountain community of almost 800 people.
“I really wanted to choose Gasquet because this is one of those communities that is going to become so isolated so quick and this community is going to have to put together a POD site,” said Del Norte Emergency Services Manager Cindy Henderson. She believes there is a “100 percent” chance that Gasquet would be cut off from surrounding areas from either collapsed bridges or landslides blocking roads in a real Cascadia earthquake.
“We want you to know that you are not going to be here alone. We are here to support you and what you just saw is a portion of our support,” said Ron Williams, of California Office of Emergency Services, to a group gathered outside the American Legion hall in Gasquet after unloading from the Chinook helicopter.
The Chinook, with its twin-engine tandem rotor blades at 30 feet each is capable of carrying 28,000 pounds, and there are 12 such Chinooks stationed in Stockton that are available for an emergency, according to Maj. Dan Anderson of the California National Guard.
Williams described how emergency agencies will be relying on communities like Gasquet to run their own PODs, so that in a real emergency a helicopter loaded with supplies can drop and go, while residents take care of the orderly distribution of goods on their own.
“PODs are the direst of tactics. There’s nothing left. The only time you’re opening a POD is because the stores are broken or the supply chain that normally feeds you is broken and you can’t get it in,” said Mark Ackerman, of FEMA Region IX. “What we all will do is establish an emergency supply chain.”
The emergency supply chain is also referred to as an “air bridge,” and the other side of the bridge is Redding, which is designated as the state staging area for supplies and personnel during a Cascadia event. It took the team on Tuesday roughly 35 minutes to reach Gasquet from Redding. One of the main points of Tuesday’s drill was practicing flying into the small air strip in Gasquet.
Ackerman emphasized that POD are places of productivity, with victims driving up, popping their trunk, getting filled with supplies and driving away — without ever leaving their car. It’s key that the people who are expected to be running the POD learn how to react around a helicopter, unload supplies, and set-up an efficient method of distribution, Ackerman said.
A POD management training is coming to Del Norte on June 19. Contact Henderson at 707-954-8775 for more information.
Henderson asked if the state and feds would be able to bring in a POD management team to relive the community from running the POD, or things like a forklift to unload supplies since its unlikely that there would be one available in Gasquet.
Ackerman said that if a POD management team is requested, it will be delivered. No matter what the request is, it will be delivered, he said.
“Can we put a forklift on or under a helicopter?” Ackerman asked, almost hypothetically, before turning to the major to say: “I think you can sling load tanks, can’t you, Major? So yeah, forklift? No problem. Whatever the request is, as long as its legal, you’re going to get it.”
Sling loading is a tactic used by military helicopters to transport large cargo loads by hanging the package on a cargo hook below the helicopter. Sling loads might be used to deliver supplies if there is not a safe place to land, and the helicopters hoists may also be used to evacuate people from dangerous areas like a flood zone, Maj. Anderson said.
Kent Burrow, director of the Bar-O Boys Ranch northeast of Gasquet, brought his wards to the test landing, and said that it is likely that they would create their own POD at the ranch to accommodate the wards, staff and passersby on the highway that would be stranded.
Burrow has incorporated emergency response training into the curriculum at Bar-O because of the Cascadia threat, but also because once the wards return to their communities, they could get involved with emergency response programs.
“It re-instills in these boys to be givers and not takers — how can they give back to their communities?” Burrow said. “I’m exposing them to this field because I think it’s positive.”