GA Being Further Developed As Response Resource
Written by Sky Terry – On April 28th a significant Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) exercise was performed to further help enhance the state of Washington’s ability to respond/recover from the eventuality of the effects of the magnitude 8 plus earthquake that the west coast is due for.
This earthquake will wipe out many of the bridges, roads and even potentially airports that would be needed save lives. This is essentially leaving general aviation land based and seaplane based aircraft to fill the breach until more traditional means are able to muster and arrive. This effort has grown from the initial smaller drills started in 2009 to the much more involved drills occurring now with activation test alerts as a part of these drills.
Separate from the live practices these activation tests are occurring on an international level monthly. This is a part of the West Coast General Aviation Response Plan (WCGARP) efforts to develop a coordinated system of GA response for the states of WA, OR and CA where local groups work with each other to support relief operations and work with the main national groups spear heading this effort to back up and support those local efforts.
One aspect that we are finding as this develops is in many cases seaplanes may quite literally be the tip of the proverbial spear for some areas due to one important factor.
Unlike land based airstrips the extent of determining if the field is safe to use is scanning to see that the lake is still there, there is a clear patch for takeoff and landings, then were up and running. Obviously more involved in reality but in general this spool up time is critical for saving lives. Shortly behind that would be the land based Disaster Airlift Response Teams (DART) of GA pilots also adding to the effort.
So for this exercise we had the scenario of a magnitude 9 earthquake for 4 minutes with a total loss of all pass highways going over the Cascade Range in WA. This triggered subsequent need for the start of evacuations of 20,000 people out of Jefferson County and Clallam County to the east side of the range.
This drill was held at Kenmore Air’s main base at the north end of Lake Washington. In reality this would be one of the main places for seaplanes to gather and become a major transition hub for water born resources. This was also noteworth in it was the first time a ground support team had gone through a 4 hr class room session on ground support operations before transitioning to hands on with live aircraft. A very special thank you goes to all the below who came from multiple counties to support this training exercise.
- Kenmore Air, largest commercial operator of seaplanes in the U.S.
- Washington Seaplane Pilots Association aircraft and their president Stephen Ratzlaff
- George Steed President of the Washington Pilots Association
- City of Kenmore EOC members
- Northshore Fire Department personnel
- AMR ambulance crew
- Jefferson County’s DART ground support team
- Alan Barnard, Head of Clallam County DART (first in the state)
- Yakima HAM radio
- PSE HAM radio members
- The individuals from Whidbey Island
There were additionally more involved and we are deeply grateful for everyone who took time on their day off to spend the day together learning how we can give people in our state the best chance possible. This was a highly successful drill that helped create further new relationships between pilots and emergency services personnel that was from many different counties and emergency response specialties.
There were many lessons learned and areas where we can make improvements going forward as this resource is further developed and implement as a key resource for these counties now collaboratively working together to forge a better future for their citizens.
Sky Terry is the Emergency and Disaster Response Editor at Seaplanemagazine.com and has written extensively on the topic of incorporating General & Business Aviation into the mix of first response after natural disasters. If you wish to get involved in the effort or begin developing your own plan to start an Emergency Response Team, please contact him via Email. To learn more about the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps visit EVAC.org. Sky Terry also puts out frequent email updates on the progress of the effort with a large number of individuals.