PACIFIC COUNTY — The U.S. Navy is making plans to help come to the rescue of coastal residents in the immediate aftermath of a major earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone and held an exercise off the north Pacific County coast earlier this month.
Pacific County Emergency Management Agency Scott McDougall on Aug. 1 was among a group of 30 people who flew aboard a Washington National Guard Chinook helicopter and landed on the USS Anchorage, a San Diego-based vessel capable of providing fresh water, medical care and other services in a disaster area. A similar exercise was staged in Newport, Oregon on July 31.
The Washington coast demonstration, which included cooperation from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Washington National Guard, the Washington Military Department, and the Washington Emergency Management Division was attended by emergency response, planning, and management professionals from across the area, McDougall said.
The Anchorage is 680 feet (about two football fields) long and 100 feet wide. With a crew of 360, the ship has 800 beds, many of which could be used to house people injured or displaced following a disaster. The ship can function as a sort of “floating hospital,” according to McDougall, who toured the vessel’s two operating rooms, six intensive care unit beds and 22 hospital beds.
The Anchorage’s landing craft — essentially a very big barge — brought ambulances, a front-end loader and a dump truck into the Port of Grays Harbor during the Aug. 1 exercise. Following an emergency, the landing craft could also ferry people back to the ship for medical attention.
The ship can produce 72,000 gallons of potable water a day through a reverse osmosis system.
“The capacity this ship has is really quite amazing,” McDougall said. “It could support a lot of different things.”
The Navy has a large flotilla of ships similar to the Anchorage stationed along the West Coast, he said, in addition to more-numerous smaller ships with similar capabilities.
After a major earthquake and related tsunamis, the Pacific Northwest coast is expected to be largely cut off from the interior for up to two weeks or more. It’s important for residents to plan ahead to fend for themselves for a time, since outside resources will not be immediately available. It will take time to travel, and time will be needed to stock vessels like the Anchorage with appropriate response equipment and personnel, McDougall said.
“Nevertheless, these resources will be very useful for an extended response,” he said.
Article adapted with permission from an item in the July/August edition of Pacific County Emergency Management Agency’s Preparedness Post newsletter, original reporting by Natasha Crater.