Seen hazily in the distance from a ferry this morning, Mount Rainier was beautiful … yet always, also, vaguely ominous. It’s a volcano. And it’s NOT extinct. So … what if? That’s the scenario for a disaster drill coming up this Saturday morning (May 17th, 9 am-noon), involving West Seattle preparedness volunteers and others around the area. Local activity will be focused at Ercolini Park west of The Junction and at American Legion Post 160 in The Triangle. As officially announced:
Neighborhood emergency preparedness groups across Seattle assisted by amateur radio emergency communicators will test skills Saturday in an exercise based on a simulated major mudflow and ash release from Mt. Rainier. This exercise titled “Mud and Ash Everywhere” is the spring version of this semiannual event. The goal of this exercise is to practice preparedness and response actions that will contribute to community resiliency in surviving a significant disaster.
An estimated 150 people from disaster preparedness groups and volunteer response teams including ham radio emergency communications teams will participate in the event. The amateur radio teams are sponsored and trained by the Seattle Office of Emergency Management. Their purpose is to provide emergency communications when cell and landline phones become overloaded or damaged due to catastrophic events.
The scenario for the event is based on the Mount Rainier mudflow of 5,600 years ago in which more than ½ a cubic mile of hydrothermally altered volcanic debris were shed by the volcano reached prehistoric Elliott Bay. This event was 200 times the size of the Oso Landslide. An analogous disaster in Columbia in November 1985 took the lives of 25,000 people burying all valley floor structures under more than 20 feet of mud a distance of many miles from the Nevado del Ruiz volcano.
The Columbia event started with an ash release that melted ice near the summit of the volcano. Just as in the Oso Landslide, the addition of water resulted in decreased cohesion of sediments, increased unit weight and increased lubricity of the resulting slurry. This exercise includes ash and will feature failures of the power system due to ash-induced flashovers and the failure of motors and bearings due to abrasive effects of ash. Additionally, cooling of electronics and ventilation will be impacted by the plugging of filters by ash. The last time our region experienced a significant ash event was the May 1981 catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens; the last significant release of ash from Mount Rainier was in 1854. This is essentially yesterday when viewed with the perspective of the geologic time scale..
Responding to Saturday’s simulated disaster event are community volunteers forming neighborhood “Hubs”. Participants have practiced solving neighborhood problems that could occur during a disaster, responding to needs affecting life and property, sharing community resources, and reporting simulated emergency messages to the Seattle Office of Emergency Management using ham radio.
“In a real event, information communicated by ham radio from the Hubs could be used by City response planners to help assess conditions throughout the city and develop response plans”, said Cindi Barker, a member of the design team for the exercise. Exercise designers have built in some twists and turns involving communications networks and several challenging issues at Hub sites which will develop during the three hour training event.
These exercises provide an opportunity for preparedness newcomers to work alongside their more experienced neighbors to gain experience and learn skills. “It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors” said Carl Leon, one of the drill organizers. “We set up neighborhood Hubs where people can come to get information and share resources or skills to help those that have been affected”.
Seattle Auxiliary Communication Services (ACS) amateur radio teams will set up portable, battery powered radio networks at neighborhood Hub sites providing communication links with the City and to other Hubs. Messages will be transmitted on ham radio systems using both voice and digital formats. Computers are connected to send and receive e-mail like documents and images.
Participating Hub locations include Broadview, Capitol Hill, Lake City, Loyal Heights, Magnolia, Maple Leaf, Queen Anne, Shilshole, Wedgwood, and West Seattle’s Ercolini Park. The West Seattle ACS Field Team will be at American Legion Post 160. All Hub locations welcome visitors and people who would like to learn and participate in emergency neighborhood preparedness during this drill.
For more information about preparedness – please visit:
Seattle Emergency Management: http://www.seattle.gov/emergency/default.htm
Community Emergency Hubs: http://www.seattle.gov/emergency/prepare/community/
For more information about amateur radio – please visit:
Seattle Auxiliary Communications Service: http://www.seattleacs.com
Western Washington Medical Service Team: http://ww7mst.org
ARRL the national association for Amateur Radio: http://arrl.org/
For information about the neighborhood Hubs: http://www.seattlehubs.org
And for West Seattle-specific information, it’s westseattlebeprepared.org.