PACIFIC COUNTY — The time has come once again for Pacific County residents to practice for an earthquake and a resulting tsunami. This year’s drill will be held at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, and is expected to have over a million participants across Washington.
Pacific County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott McDougall will head the drill’s local efforts, including the All Hazard Alert Broadcast (AHAB) sirens and reverse 911 alerts. The reverse 911 alerts will be issued the day before on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and will inform of the test.
“[The Great Shakeout] has been going on for a number of years on the third Thursday of October,” McDougall said. “It is an international [event] that takes place all across the United States and in other places around the world as well.”
McDougall continued, “The idea is to stop what you are doing, drop, cover, and hold on and practice what you would do in the event of [a real] earthquake.”
As part of the drill, the AHAB sirens will be whaling in both the north and south county regions, but McDougall also emphasized that the sirens are an outdoor warning system only.
“The AHAB sirens are part of a redundant tiered system,” he said. “In the event of a real distance-sourced earthquake, we will utilize the AHAB siren system, reverse 911, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency weather alert radios, the Integrated Public Alert Warning System, Emergency Alert System and we may be out going door to door [during a real event].”
McDougall continued, “People get all weirded out about not being able to hear the AHAB sirens, and the fact of the matter is people don’t have to hear the siren. The siren is designed to warn people when they’re outdoors and on the beach.”
The AHAB sirens are also only for a distance-source earthquake and tsunami. If residents feel the ground shake violently, they are encouraged to seek high ground immediately after it stops shaking. The Long Beach Peninsula and the Tokeland area could be struck by a tsunami caused by a near-source earthquake in as little as 15 minutes.
Seismically active state
Washington is considered the second-most seismically active state in the entire U.S., second only to Alaska, and even ahead of California, even though the last major earthquake for the state was Feb. 21, 2008. The earthquake known as the Nisqually Quake registered as a 6.8 magnitude with an epicenter northeast of Olympia.
Pacific County saw an earthquake earlier this year when a 2.3 magnitude earthquake was registered 10 miles northwest of Raymond along Smith Creek Road on Feb. 14 late in the evening.
“We don’t have as many earthquakes, but what we do is have a lot of potential from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and it is a somewhat seismically active area anyway,” McDougall said. “The state of Washington is very much a proponent of [The Great Shakeout].”
Agencies encourage participation
The drill isn’t just for students at schools but is designed for the entire public, contrary to popular belief. McDougall, other state officials and agencies encourage everyone to participate to be ready for when a real event happens.
“What PCEMA has generally done over the years is we encourage people to drop, cover, and hold on,” McDougall said. “Which is what people need to do in the event of an earthquake, and then because of the potential tsunami risk, we also drill what you should do in the event of a tsunami, which is to get to high ground.”
“There are more and more people that are participating in this drill,” McDougall said. “I also know that Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties per capita have had outstanding participation rates because of the risk we have from [the CSZ]. Last year I believe there were over 1 million people who participated. Roughly one in seven people in the state took part in an earthquake drill of some sort.”
Go bags are another necessity
Studies, including a recent tsunami impact and inundation model by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, show that a significant earthquake and tsunami will devastate Pacific County, primarily along the seashore. Impacts would leave some residents on their own without resources for up to two weeks and shelters overrun.
“We talk about two weeks ready and having enough supplies ready to last those 14 days,” McDougall said. “You may not be able to pack 14 days of supplies on your back and get to high ground in a short period of time. So it also illustrates the need for different kinds of preparation.”
McDougall continued, “you need to make sure you have a go-bag. It may be 24 hours before you can return to your house, but not all houses will be destroyed. There’s likely to be something for you to go back to. So be ready to grab supplies to survive in a shelter on high ground for at least a little while, like two or three days.”