Earthquake Exercise

For Immediate Release: Monday, April 14, 2014

Sponsored by: County Administrative Office

Washington County Agencies Practice for Earthquake at Federal Training Center

Agencies in Washington County will respond to a major earthquake scenario as part of a disaster response and recovery course this week. The training and exercise are taking place at the federal Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The earthquake exercise will test the agencies’ abilities to coordinate critical decision making, damage assessment and recovery operations.

Emergency management officials plan to use a partial rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone as the story line for the exercise. The subduction zone is an area along the coastline of the Pacific Northwest where oceanic plates are colliding with the North American plate. The 700-mile-long zone extends from just off of the Northern California coast northward toward Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Geologists have learned that a devastating earthquake occurs roughly every 300 years whenever tension is released along these two colliding plates of the earth’s crust. The last such event is thought to have taken place 300 years ago.

The devastation from such an earthquake would be severe and widespread, geologists warn. The magnitude of this quake could reach as high as 9.0. Shaking felt on the earth’s surface would be violent and would last 3 to 6 minutes. The quake would also trigger a tsunami that would cause destruction along the Pacific Northwest coastline and on coastlines across the Pacific. Aftershocks would be felt for several weeks following a subduction zone quake.

“We have learned a great deal from subduction zone earthquakes that have struck Japan, Chile and elsewhere,” said Scott Porter, director of the Emergency Management Cooperative of Washington County. “One of these lessons is the importance of coordination among local, regional, state and federal agencies. The federal government’s Emergency Management Institute in Maryland provides us with an outstanding opportunity to train together to improve our combined efforts at responding to and recovering from this kind of disaster.”

In addition to Washington County, participants include officials from the cities of Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Tigard and Sherwood. Special districts and other organizations participating in the training include Clean Water Services, the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross, Portland General Electric, Providence St. Vincent Hospital, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Tualatin Valley Water District and the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency. Officials from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also be participating.

“We are grateful for the broad participation in this exercise by the State of Oregon and from the cities, special districts and other critical organizations operating in Washington County,” said Porter. “We are also grateful for the federal commitment to this level of training for local communities, nearly all of which – including participant travel expenses – is supported by federal resources.”

The Emergency Management Institute is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. The institute provides training for government and some private organizations to strengthen emergency management core competencies. Formerly the Civil Defense Staff College, the Emergency Management Institute is now co-located with the National Fire Academy at the former site of the Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

As government agencies work to improve coordination and decision making, experts in disaster response emphasize that families and individuals should also take steps toward better preparedness. Because a subduction zone earthquake would occur without warning and cause power blackouts and other disruptions for weeks on end, each household is encouraged to gather enough emergency supplies to feed and hydrate each family member for two or three weeks, if not longer. Families should discuss ways to re-connect with one another after the earthquake hits, pre-designate locations to meet if their homes are no longer safe and make other arrangements.

More information about preparing for earthquakes and other natural disasters can be found at these web sites:

The Emergency Management Cooperative (EMC) of Washington County is committed to the development and maintenance of a countywide, integrated system to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against disasters. The EMC comprises Beaverton, Tigard, Hillsboro, Washington County and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.

Media Contact:

Philip Bransford, Communications Officer, County Administrative Office