With a new Cascadia earthquake and tsunami response plan in hand, California emergency officials told their Del Norte County counterparts Tuesday what aid could be expected in the chaotic days that would follow a 9.0 earthquake and resulting massive tsunami that could kill hundreds of people in Crescent City.
The 95th Civil Support Team’s Unified Command Suite, which would provide communications, medical support, and a field lab in the event of an emergency, is exhibited Thursday at the Crescent Fire Protection District office. File photo courtesy of Debra Wakefield
Much of the presentations from California Office of Emergency Serves, Caltrans, the American Red Cross, and the California Department of Social Services focused on how representatives of state and federal agencies would work as a team to fast-track the delivery of aid.
Scott Marrote, of Cal OES, made sure to distinguish a disaster, which has impacts that last for years, from a catastrophe, which has impacts for decades. A Cascadia earthquake would undoubtedly be a catastrophe, Marrote said.
The state and feds would have a wealth of resources — food, water, temporary shelters and medical equipment — for impacted areas, but some assumptions must be made about what to expect.
Assumption No. 1: It is virtually guaranteed that there would be no way to access Del Norte County by ground travel for the first three days — maybe longer.
“Unfortunately, this is the ugly side of living in a beautiful place like this,” said Scott Marrote, of Cal OES.
Royal McCarthy, of Caltrans, said that although he has faith in the stability of Caltrans structures, much is not known about what would happen during up to five minutes of shaking.
Utilities, including power, communications and water, would also be severely disrupted.
Solution No. 1: an “air bridge would be the most important line of supply at first” used for an “immediate push of resources” to replace disrupted public services, said Marrote. Clearing debris from the air fields in Crescent City and Gasquet would have a high priority.
Although local officials worried about how supplies could be flown in, Marrote said that agencies like California Air National Guard can often get resources where they need to go, no matter what the conditions.
During a planned full-scale evacuation drill next March, the California National Guard will also practice bringing in resources by sea without using Crescent City Harbor.
Assumption No. 2: the needs of impacted areas, which could stretch from Mendocino County to the Canadian border, would quickly exceed the capabilities of local and state agencies.
“It’s going to be so huge that no one agency is going to be able to handle all of the resources needed to respond,” Marrote said.
The feds have the most resources, but it would take time for them to get aid where it needs to be.
Solution No. 2: To the extent possible, local communities need to be prepared to survive on their own, without outside resources, for at least 72 hours.
Affected counties should be ready to receive resources and disperse the goods as efficiently as possible through Points of Distribution or PODs, officials said. Counties like Del Norte should be planning now on how and where PODs would operate and who would staff them.
PODs would offer water, non-perishable rations, ice, tarps, toilets and Dumpsters.
A new concept in the Cascadia response plan is the Unified Coordination Group, which will include representatives of state and federal agencies with statutory authority to make decisions on getting aid out without wasting time through the normal approval channels.
Although there is still work to do and gaps in planning to be addressed, the efforts to prepare for a Cascadia earthquake, prompted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have paid off.
“Katrina is the reason we’re all here, and we’re light-years ahead for our disaster planning,” Marrote said.
The California Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake and Tsunami Response Plan will be presented to the public early next year, before the full-scale exercise planned for March.