Tuesday, March 11th will mark three years since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan and sent debris into the Pacific Ocean and onto the West Coast. Looking back, officials wonder, are we better off today? Has the U.S. used the event to learn, plan and initiate changes along the coast?
Although three years seems like a long time, in the world of government, it is fairly quick. Homeland Security and FEMA have adopted plans for such an event and are planning to exercise them in the Pacific Northwest in June of 2016, with Grays Harbor being a central location. Washington State Emergency Management, the National Guard and the Department of Defense have been meeting to work on their plans for such an event. According to Deputy Director of Emergency Management Chuck Wallace, their goal is to make the unachievable-achievable. He says that officials are listening and plans are changing.
In Grays Harbor, the Ocosta School District has approved plans for a new Elementary School with Vertical Evacuation Engineering built into the school. This will allow the school to withstand the impact of tsunami while providing a safe refuge for all students, faculty and employees of the school district. This will be the only building in the U.S. with that capability.
A Citizen Expectation Survey conducted by Grays Harbor County Emergency Management uncovered many issues which will confound safety, response and mitigation of the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake and the following Tsunami waves.
Many people are not familiar with their site specific issues for such an event. Wallace says that only half of all citizens have a family emergency plan. Of those who have plans, many do not include information on specific meeting areas, ways to communicate or how and where to evacuate.
For more information on what to do in a disaster, visit the Grays Harbor Emergency Management Website at www.co.grays-harbor.wa.us/info/dem/Index.asp.