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Fox Island residents so prepared they were invited to join major earthquake drill

VIDEO: Fox Island emergency preparation

The Fox Island Emergency Preparation Team is gathering members and organizing to be ready for an earthquake, a big fire, or other large-scale disasters.
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The Fox Island Emergency Preparation Team is gathering members and organizing to be ready for an earthquake, a big fire, or other large-scale disasters.

A group of Fox Island residents know the score:

If a natural disaster like a massive earthquake hits the region, it could be days or even weeks before help reaches the Pierce County island.

So, instead of waiting on outsiders, a core group of residents has developed an emergency response plan that details how islanders will help each other if a natural disaster hits.

The residents will test parts of that plan Tuesday (June 7) when they join 20,000 people from Washington, Oregon and Idaho in a federal earthquake drill that assumes a 9.0 magnitude subduction zone earthquake has hit off the Oregon Coast.

The Pierce County’s Department of Emergency Management asked the Fox Island group to join the Cascadia Rising exercise, which predominately involves local, state and federal government officials and all branches of the military.

“We’re talking private citizens who are sitting at the table with government officials and participating in an exercise,” said Peggy LovellFord, the county’s public educator on emergency preparedness. “That to me is pretty cool.”

A group in Bonney Lake might participate as well, LovellFord said, but not to the same degree as the Fox Island group.

Of all the community groups she has worked with, LovellFord said the Fox Island residents are some of the most prepared.

“On a scale of zero to 10, as far as neighborhood organizations go, they’re at a 10,” she said.

LovellFord attributes the community’s preparedness to its population, which includes people with the time and money to be prepared and a general understanding that island life requires a degree of self-reliance.

“The other thing for them is, they didn’t think government was going to do it for them,” LovellFord said of the general opinion that it could be weeks before emergency aid reaches the largely residential island after a major disaster.

We have some roughly 110 neighborhoods identified. Seventy of those are covered by volunteers who will be block captains.

Jim Braden, president, Fox Island Community and Recreation Association building trust

The level of detail in the island’s emergency plan goes down to providing residents with signs to post in windows stating “OK” or “Help.”

After a major earthquake or other large-scale disaster, predetermined volunteers know to patrol their neighborhoods and report via hand-held radio to the Nichols Community Center, where an emergency operations center will be set up.

The center has been outfitted with an emergency generator and will be the location for about 40 amateur radio operators to gather and use their equipment to communicate with fire officials on the mainland.

Volunteers also hope to use the community center as a makeshift medical triage center and have minimal supplies on hand, said Jim Braden, president of the Fox Island Community and Recreation Association building trust.

Braden has helped organize the island’s emergency preparations.

The community’s emergency plan includes a list of yacht club members available to move critically injured people by boat to the mainland.

It also reminds parents of school-age children to have a plan for how they will reunite if a disaster happens during the day.

Schools are equipped to temporarily house children, but parents should have an off-island contact lined up to pick up children if they can’t get off the island, the plan states.

“We’re trying to organize neighborhood by neighborhood,” Braden said. “We have some roughly 110 neighborhoods identified. Seventy of those are covered by volunteers who will be block captains.”

Two churches, Alliance Church and United Church of Christ, will be designated emergency shelters. They have a stockpile of emergency supplies, though Braden said they hope to add cots and bedding once they have a place to store them.

We’re talking private citizens who are sitting at the table with government officials and participating in an exercise. That to me is pretty cool.

Peggy LovellFord, Pierce County public educator on emergency preparedness

The community got serious about preparedness three years ago after Pierce County deemed the Fox Island bridge structurally deficient.

If the 1,950-foot-long bridge, the only way on or off the island, were significantly damaged or collapsed, islanders would be trapped.

Most island residents assume the bridge would be impassable if a subduction zone or other high-magnitude earthquake hit the region.

“If it’s still standing, it won’t be safe passage until after it’s inspected,” Braden said. There’s no idea how long it could take for that to happen, he said.

The county is analyzing whether to complete a large-scale seismic retrofit of the 62-year-old bridge or build a new one, said Kraig Shaner, county bridge engineering supervisor.

Braden hopes participation in the Cascadia Rising drill will help his group identify strengths and weaknesses in their plan. He also hopes it raises awareness among islanders not yet involved to think about being prepared.

“For me, I’m an old retired guy, and I’m pretty self-sufficient,” he said. “It’s less of an issue for me than for young families where mom and dad are at work while the kids are in school.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

An extensive list of what to include in an emergency kit and other earthquake preparedness tips can be found at bit.ly/statekit

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