Report: Clallam County Disaster Exercise
Disaster Exercise Report written by Sky Terry — On September 15, 2018 the first Disaster Airlift Response Team (DART) in Washington conducted a county wide drill that tested and helped to better understand how general aviation can help in a catastrophic disaster like the magnitude 8 plus Cascadia Earthquake that we are due to have on the West Coast.
Numerous parties were involved in this effort within Clallam County some of which include the County Emergency Management resources, EMS resources, Clallam County DART; WSDOT was present and many other agencies and resources that would be activated in the event of the earthquake.
This all started a month prior though with a food drive held within Clallam County and also Whatcom County. This was unique as it simulated, but did produce a load that was flown, a massing point of supplies outside of the impact area that was then picked up and flown into the impacted area for further distribution.
For the food drive portion in Whatcom County a very special thank you to Lake Way Fred Meyers that sponsored the first 100 lbs and without which there would not have actually been a food drive or a place to collect the food. This was further supported by the following community leaders by letting people know of this and how to participate and those were the Bellingham Police Department, Unlimited Auto Service, Eden Home Health and Cornwall Church. The combined effort collected 450 lbs at the Lake Way Fred Meyers in Bellingham.
Once collected it was then transported to Bellingham International Airport where it was airlifted out by the Clallam County DART pilots coming from Clallam County to Bellingham International and back to Clallam County. This became very real as weather turned bad on us and caused us to have to make adjustments to timing, but in the end the food was airlifted out. This load out was made very easy by the wonderful support of the Bellingham Aviation Services. Their staff was very supportive and easy to work with. It was a great experience.
Once it arrived at the Clallam County Airport of Fair Child it was combined with the local food drive there and brought the total to around 700 lbs. of food. This was then subdivide and sent via local DART pilots to 3 different airports within the county that had associated food banks that received the food.
Additionally and completely separate from the above exercise there was an out of state com check that occurred. One of the key things for the out of state responding general aviation assets to be most effectively used is coms with ground zero. Being general aviation has not typically had a HAM capacity within its own structure it has had some limitations in talking to ground zero and in our case a critical problem. This comes from the reality that about the only thing working after the earthquake will be HAM communication on the west side of the range.
So to test a fix to this a Jefferson County HAM operator transmitted on HF to see if he could reach someone that would have normal cell/land phone access. He succeeded. While transmitting in Jefferson County, one of the areas likely to be very hard hit, he reach a HF operator in UT and also CA. The UT operator took the HAM message and made a cell call to our DART liaison in Walla Walla and he confirmed the receipt of the message which was sent back via HAM to Jefferson County HAM. CA location served as a backup if UT was unsuccessful. If this had been the real thing the DART liaison could have then given that critical information to the inbound national and international general aviation responders.
This is a major improvement as it means for the first the time in our nation’s history general aviation is being fully recognized as a critical resource and we have a way to keep communication directly with ground zero to get that critical information to make the response so much more effective.
Combined both these exercises have significantly further helped to develop general aviation as the important resource it is. We can never thank enough all of those that have invested so much to help 1,000. This has been at all levels from state to county to local community members and from professional response people to just everyday community members. Because of all their efforts 1,000 of peoples futures just got a much better chance at surviving the aftermath of what is to come.
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.
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