Call him Lt. Col. Braun-Doom.
That’s Lt. Clayton Braun’s nickname around Camp Murray since the Washington National Guard handed him an assignment drawing up response plans for a potentially devastating earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
A temblor on that fault could hit magnitude 9, trigger a tsunami and do the damage of “100 Oso” landslides, Braun says. He’s getting the word out, and motivating colleagues to take the threat seriously.
“If this happens, this isn’t a Washington event. This isn’t a West Coast event. This isn’t a United States event. This is a global event,” said Braun, a Tacoma resident.
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This month, he and dozens of other National Guard citizen soldiers are testing their first plans for a response to that kind of disaster. They intensified preparations for a Cascadia earthquake two years ago.
It’s a rehearsal for a much larger exercise next year that will involve more than 2,500 guardsmen from three states working with participants from local, state and federal agencies.
Guard leaders consider a Cascadia earthquake to be overdue. They want to be ready in case they’re right. The last one hit in 1700.
“If we’re lucky, it’s 100 years from now. If not, it’s tomorrow,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the commander of the Washington National Guard who has been prodding state government to prepare for a massive earthquake.
The Guard’s response plan is based on Homeland Security projections that suggest a Cascadia quake could kill instantly more than 8,000 people in Western Washington, make some communities virtually unreachable by road and require emergency supplies for more than 1.2 million people.
It would have far-reaching consequences for global commerce, too, if the quake were to knock out ports in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle.
At least in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, the active-duty military in Western Washington might not offer much help, even though troops are trained to respond to disasters overseas. The Army, Navy and Air Force will be facing their own challenges digging out of the damage.
“They’ll be among the victims,” Braun said.
This month’s drill centered on three main locations: The state’s emergency operations center at Camp Murray in Lakewood, Sanderson Field in Shelton, and the defunct Satsop nuclear power plant in Elma.
If the big one hits, Sanderson could be a hub to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Olympic Peninsula while Satsop could become a resource center for communities in Grays Harbor County.
Both sites are near runways that would be essential to delivering humanitarian assistance to hard-to-reach coastal communities impacted by a tsunami.
In Shelton this week, a group of volunteers huddled with Mason County officials and National Guard troops to play through the steps they’d take to get vital information to the public while coordinating disaster relief efforts.
The region has two main roads, U.S. Highway 101 and state Route 3. Both likely would be crippled in a significant Cascadia quake.
“If we have any trouble bringing in supplies or taking out people, we’re going to have some major problems with just the two main highways,” said Henry Cervantes, a Mason County emergency management planner.
Back at Camp Murray, updates from the field streamed into a command center built to withstand natural disasters. The Guard added a layer of stress by limiting its headquarters staff to half-strength because “Cascadia will keep half of us from getting here,” said Lit Dudley, the training manager for the state Military Department’s Emergency Management Division.
Tuesday was the fifth day of the earthquake exercise. By that point, the scenario envisioned more than 8,000 simulated National Guard troops from other states pouring into Washington, with more on the way.
The Guard set up a joint-command center that would coordinate more help from active-duty military. Next year, the Navy expects to participate in the larger exercise by bringing a portable pier that would be used to bring aid after an earthquake.
The day’s observers included officials from the Oregon and Idaho National Guard. They would be part of the team in responding to a Cascadia quake, too.
“On the coast, that tsunami is going to wipe out a lot of people, and it’s not going to stop at a state border,” said Oregon Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Jeff Silver. “We have the same issues.”