Arlington drills for region-wide response to emergencies
August 27, 2008 · Updated 5:16 PM
ARLINGTON The Arlington City Council chambers became the base of operations for a region-wide exercise that its participants hope will prepare them for real-life emergencies.
Soundshake took place March 5, not only in Snohomish County, but also in Pierce County and the cities of Bellevue and Seattle, to simulate the possible impacts of a potential natural disaster on our area.
The exercise was funded under the Urban Area Security Initiative of the Department of Homeland Security, and required participating agencies to respond as though an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude had occurred at approximately 7:58 a.m. that morning, for 30-60 seconds, along the Harbor Island to Issaquah fault line, which is part of the Seattle fault line.
The impact of such an earthquake would not be as severe on Arlington and Snohomish County as a whole as it would be those counties to the south of us, said Christine Badger, Arlington Community Emergency Management Coordinator. Still, we simulated small fires, cracked bridges, hazardous materials spills, broken water mains and concrete retaining walls, a sink hole and a variety of other likely injuries and damage to buildings.
Arlingtons exercise involved 18 people, including not only police officers and firefighters, but also airport personnel and city executive, finance and information technology staff, all of whom were teamed up at different tables in the City Council chambers, each of which was equipped with its own phone jack and tasked with a different emergency response function.
Part of the purpose of such comprehensive emergency teams is that every team has the same positions, Badger said. That way, if I were to go to Idaho or Alaska, I could step into their emergency operations centers and fit right into my role on their teams.
Badger noted that being able to reorganize the City Council chambers into an emergency operations center was the first test of the exercise.
Arlington Fire Deputy Chief Tom Cooper was the operations section chief, and he dispatched a duty crew to set up the EOC that morning, Badger said. They had to be able to follow the layout diagram and they did an excellent job. It was easy to transform the Council chambers into an EOC.
While Arlington Fire Chief Jim Rankin was the EOC incident commander for this exercise, Badger added that Arlington Police Chief John Gray or his designee could assume such a role in the event of more law enforcement-driven incidents. The other EOC staff members were made up of city of Arlington department heads or their designees, who were putting into practice what theyd learned in last years Incident Command System 100 and National Incident Management System 700 courses. Those courses are part of the citys federally mandated NIMS requirements, and NIMS is part of Homeland Security Presidential Directive Number 5.
That directive basically says that all those involved in emergency services will be trained on the common operating system of ICS, so that all levels of responders and federal agencies can work cohesively together, Badger said.
Arlington EOC staff worked cohesively with the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management through their EOC radio, since they were simulating sporadic phone line outages. The Arlington EOC also monitored and communicated with the Snohomish County EOC via a program called WebEOC, practicing using this tool so as to improve their coordination in the event of an actual emergency.
Our IT folks brought up WebEOC on the computer and projected it on the large screens, so everyone in the room could see what was happening on the outside, Badger said. We added what we were doing in our own EOC, so that the county could see we were working hard to care for our citizens by utilizing our local resources. A mapping program from a local startup company will help us with rerouting and allow us to put our resources, schools, hospital, shelters and damages up on the wall, to give everyone a good overall picture of whats happening within the city.
While CDs and DVDs simulated outside radio and television news reports, much of the internal communication in the Arlington EOC occurred through simple sheets of paper, as each section received calls about incidents ranging from traffic congestion and crowding stores to dry hydrants and cracking concrete, and had to place calls to the appropriate agencies in turn to deal with those issues.
They had to prioritize the life-and-death stuff over other problems, Badger said. Weve already learned that were going to need to revise our message forms and compile notebooks of all the necessary phone numbers for the EOC. We also have to back up our financial records, and in case of the banks being down, well need paper checks, rather than relying entirely on electronic checks.
As the exercise controller for Arlington, Badger commended the participants for taking their roles seriously and committing to their duties.
Completing exercises like this always brings up ideas we have never thought about before, Badger said. It shows where our holes are as a group. At our exercise debriefing, we were able to come up with some good solutions for fixing some of our weak links.
One of those weak links is the number of volunteers available, since Badger cited a need for approximately 12 more people to participate in the Arlington Disaster Task Force, including representatives from civic, senior and church groups, as well as businesses and interested individuals.
Soundshake is one part of the city of Arlingtons overall Community Emergency Management Program, that partners the Cascade Valley Hospital and Clinics, the Arlington School District and the city of Arlington government in community preparedness efforts.
We are just starting the building blocks to preparedness, Badger said. This was one of those first blocks. We will have additional training and exercises over the course of the next 24 months that will incorporate the hospital, school district, city and community in becoming even more prepared and equipped to handle emergencies and large significant disasters.