Practice, we trust, makes the best of the worst.
That is why Western Washington emergency responders drilled Tuesday and are continuing today for a 7.1 earthquake with aftershocks, tsunamis, broken highways and upwards of 3,000 dead.
The exercise has local, state, federal, tribal governments and some private players running through what they would do 24 and 72 hours after the big one.
That is what sent Janet Mobus through the dorm rooms and lounges of Tingelstad Hall at Pacific Lutheran University. Mobus, on PLU’s business faculty, led a team of professors, finance and computer experts, and facilities workers into the nine-story building with hard hats, oversized crowbars, flashlights and emergency backpacks.
In this scenario, PLU staff had already gotten 1,395 students into safe places on the day of the quake.
The day after, they were assessing the damage and their resources.
The pool building had collapsed. A gas fire had burned Ingram Hall, and there were chemical spills in Reike Science Center. One wall at Eastvold Chapel was failing, and another was cracked at the library.
One student had been killed by falling debris. A faculty member had died of a heart attack. Others had been injured, five critically. There was no help on the way.
The Parkland campus had fared comparatively well as the Tacoma, Seattle, Olympia-Nisqually, Devil’s Mountain and South Whidbey Island faults had shifted under Pierce, Thurston, King, Kitsap, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
“Both Narrows bridges are closed. A lot of overpasses are down,” Mobus said after her team reached the fifth floor of the dorm. “Ten minutes after the quake, a tsunami hit the Port of Tacoma. Ten minutes.”
While she called the university’s command center for a team to evacuate a woman paralyzed by a falling beam, ham radio operators in the center were relaying information to colleagues at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. Some land lines worked, but cell and Internet traffic were down, so PLU relied on the unaffected school to handle its communications. If disaster hit Willamette, PLU would do the same for it.
“We are trying to tell parents their kids are OK. Or not,” said PLU spokeswoman Barbara Clements.
Through the counties, teams were sending damage assessments to response headquarters. Because the disaster was region-wide, they assumed neighboring counties were just as bad off.
They were telling the feds what they needed and figuring out how to distribute aid when it arrived. They figured it would be days. They hoped people had paid attention to warnings and were prepared to hang on for seven days without help.
“We’re on our own,” PLU facilities director David Kohler told his incident management team. “There will be no medical help.”
They had put out a call for anyone with medical expertise, from EMTs to teachers and students in the school’s nursing program.
They were taking stock of the college’s food supplies. “We have enough for five days,” he said.
They and county coordinators were figuring out whether PLU could help feed people from off campus.
In a dorm room, volunteer victim Shirley Garrison yelled, “My ankle is caught. I can’t get out. I’m afraid it will collapse. I don’t want to die.”
In the drill, she had spent a night alone in a dark building, followed by a magnitude 6.5 aftershock. Her rescuers talked through how they would stabilize her ankle, how they would get her out without using the elevators, and where they would take her.
“I heard screams in the building,” she told her rescuers. “Is it safe outside?”
All the while, student and drill evaluator Brian Hundtofte took notes on what the team did right, which was most everything, and what they missed, which will become training targets.
The regional drill was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and coordinated by the Washington Emergency Management Division.
On June 12-14, emergency responders will test their supply delivery. In August, they will focus on recovery efforts months after a quake.
This level of practice, we trust, will serve us if ever we need email@example.com