SOUTH BEND — The Cascadia Subduction Zone has put fear into coastal residents that few other things can approach. Those fears and concerns have pushed local, state and federal officials to take the looming threat more seriously.

South Bend School District Superintendent Jon Tienhaara has been working on evacuation plans for the past year or more. One of his main concerns has always been getting students to higher ground quickly.

Evacuation routes were quick to develop thanks to nearby high ground in the Alta Vista neighborhood. Then an entirely new issue presented itself: how the district can ensure students have emergency essentials to sustain themselves.

Why it matters

The situation is relatively easy to understand. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes off the coast and destroys local infrastructure and roadways. Students are urged out of their classrooms as quickly as possible and go up to the Alta Vista Hill neighborhood.

Within an hour, water begins to rise on the Willapa River before a steady surge moves inland, inundating U.S. Highway 101 and slowly consuming low-lying areas of South Bend. Seven hundred students are now stuck at the top of Alta Vista neighborhood with no food, water or shelter.

The students are now in a fight to survive. It will be at least a few days before the water recedes and resources can arrive.

District and community unite

Tienhaara has been cooperating with city officials, Pacific County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott McDougall and caring citizens to find a logical solution.

“We’ve been working since last spring in developing an evacuation strategy in case we have a tsunami event,” Tienhaara said. “We have identified community members up on the hill who are willing to shelter students in the time of need.”

He said, “Essentially, we always do our tsunami evacuation drill, and our students march up the hill and assemble in the Jackson Street area. So if there was a tsunami that wiped things out and we needed to shelter kids up there for multiple days, the plan is we would disperse kids starting with the preschool kids and then upwards through the various homes.”

Taking it seriously

Tienhaara and community members have met twice since the plan was developed to discuss strategies and ways to improve response. They also work to address stockpiling supplies for the students.

“We also have a smaller group meeting on a much more regular basis,” Tienhaara said. “We have never had a plan like this before and always have sort of gone up Alta Vista Hill, but we’ve never taken it to the next level of ‘Oh, okay, what if we need to be up here for three days or a week? What do we do?’”

He continued one thought is to ask parents to provide an emergency backpack once a year containing three-days worth of vital supplies.

Tienhaara plans to continue working closely with the community and McDougall to ensure students are well prepared for a CSZ quake.

“I hope this will bring awareness to even more people who would want to help,” Tienhaara said. “We have 700 students, and we can place about 25 per home. With that math, we can shelter around 350 right now and maybe push it to 375.”

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