Earthquake drill draws a fair shake

Building official Lee Bailey uses a map and colored markers during the EOC
Building official Lee Bailey uses a map and colored markers during the EOC's earthquake drill March 5 to illustrate what areas of the city were suffering damage.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror


Descriptions of a rolled school bus, collapsed library and burning wastewater treatment plant were reported to the Emergency Operations Center on March 5 during the Sound Shake 2008 earthquake drill.

Representatives from Federal Way, South King Fire and Rescue, Lakehaven Utility District, Federal Way Public Schools, Federal Way police and Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD), along with volunteers, worked as an emergency team as they prepared for a catastrophic earthquake. Varying exercises were conducted across the Puget Sound region by cities and agencies in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

In Federal Way, Sound Shake began at 9 a.m. March 5. EOC workers, associated with the Greater Federal Way Emergency Management program, operated as if the Seattle Fault had just shifted and caused an earthquake measuring 6.7 in magnitude. The drill mimicked the planned response from local agencies if such a disaster were to ever play itself out.

“It’s a pretty broad-based effort to protect the citizens,” said Jerry Thorson, South King Fire and Rescue deputy chief of emergency management.

Within 20 minutes, the EOC team set up laptops and a phone system as a means of communication.

“I was very impressed with how they went about setting up the EOC and that all the equipment worked,” Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Gross said.

Assessing the damage:

Six teams were each charged with assessing the damage of public facilities, such as the King County Regional Library, schools and fire stations. As locations were checked for visible and significant damage, the teams reported the destruction via radio back to the EOC members at City Hall.

There, in a small space parallel to the Patrick Maher room, a two-person team of street systems engineer John Mulkey and resident Dan Goede listened carefully and took notes. They operated the city’s radio and amateur radio devices. Voices from the field team reported disasters, such as a flipped school bus, over the radio.

“When everything else fails, this room will be our link to communication,” Gross said.

Tracking reports:

The city-wide damage assessment was then passed on to a planning team in the next room. Long tables, bright yellow vests, cords, cables, telephones and electronics were plentiful.

On a large screen and two oversized posters, the group documented the extent of damage to public and private buildings. The drill simulated the collapse of the King County Regional Library. The Redondo Wastewater Treatment Plant was reported on fire.

Federal Way building official Lee Bailey mapped the damages using colored markers to circle areas on a wall map. Later in the drill, this helped EOC members determine what parts of the city suffered the most damage.

Taking action:

An operations team received the damage reports. Together, the members decided what resources were needed and how best to allocate those resources.

In an actual emergency, these men and women would decide, for example, how many fire engines were needed in the city, where they were needed and what jurisdictions could provide the engines, Thorson said.

Thorson said he was impressed that each of the agencies involved in the drill worked well together and decided as a group how best to manage the simulated emergency.

“There were no turf battles,” Thorson said. “We came together and worked as a team.”

Increasing efforts:

Though Federal Way has participated in Sound Shake exercises in the past, this was the first year the EOC operated in this fashion.

In prior years, the focus has been on educating the public on how to personally prepare for an earthquake and provide for up to three days following the disaster, Thorson said.

“In this one, we chose to take it a step farther,” he said. “We activated and had a simulation.”

This will help EOC members better prepare and gain confidence in their abilities to handle a significant earthquake, were it to rumble Federal Way, Gross said.

“The biggest thing is just getting the confidence that in the event we have a disaster, they will be able to do what is expected of them,” Gross said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.


Check it out:

The infamous Nisqually Earthquake, measuring 6.8 magnitude, rocked the region Feb. 28, 2001. The earthquake was the largest to occur in the area since a 1949 quake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. The Nisqually quake damaged the control tower at Sea-Tac airport, caused state highways to close, deteriorated the area’s infrastructure, destroyed buildings in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, injured roughly 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

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