WA State After Action Report for Cascadia Rising

Washington State has posted a “Final Draft” AAR (pdf) for the Cascadia Rising exercise held in June of this year. That exercise practiced a response to 9 magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Selected quotes:

There is an urgent need for residents to prepare
Despite the ongoing public education efforts and community preparedness programs, our families, communities, schools, hospitals, and businesses are not prepared for the catastrophic disaster that a worst-case CSZ earthquake would cause.

The typical response to incidents and disasters begins at the local level –dispatch, fire, law enforcement, public works, etc. Once the local level and mutual aid is overwhelmed, requests for support are elevated to the county, then state, and if required to the federal level. This is commonly referred to as a “pull” system, here the highest level of government pulls up only requests for support in order to respond. Cascadia Rising proved this approach is grossly inadequate

the clock is ticking to a humanitarian disaster.

The state’s transportation, communication, and energy networks which are essential to enable a catastrophic response and thus, saving and sustaining lives, are not survivable

There is no long-term recovery strategy or plan

The ability of the SEOC to collect and process information and act on it was overwhelmed.

Importance of CERT and light rescue teams to Urban Search and Rescue.

Ham radio specific:

Areas of Improvement
1.Emergency coordination centers are not prepared to operate in a degraded communications environment over an extended period.

Analysis: The exercise placed a focus on operating in a severely degraded communications environment which is expected based on the damages modeled to telephone and web-based infrastructure in Western Washington. Several local jurisdictions and the State EOC operated for a period of time without telephones or web-based communications (email, web pages, cloud services). The results were mixed. Some jurisdiction emergency management agencies are equipped with back-up forms of communication, with sufficiently trained staff, while others identified emergency communications as an area of improvement either due to lack of equipment, procedures, or training. For the State EOC, multiple forms of alternate communications were successfully used but procedures for effective interaction between the radio room and operations floor had to be improvised on the first day of the exercise.

At the state level, the successful employment of satellite phones, particularly among key leadership was inconsistent. Amateur radio was successfully employed by many jurisdictions and at the state level on a larger scale then previously experienced in recent exercises. The amateur radio teams are voluntary and their engagement and integration with emergency management offices vary.

Continue training and exercising the professional and volunteer community on alternate communication systems, forms, and procedures.

Amateur Radio:
Emergency management agencies and their amateur radio support teams need to establish a habitual relationship and engage with each other on how ARES/RACES can support in both activations and drills. For a few jurisdictions, this engagement merely needs to be sustained. For most jurisdictions, this is an area of improvement. This engagement can be improved through training and drills (emergency managers need to integrate the ARES/RACES teams and provide the material to be used for radio messages); Support and collaboration on the use of formatted digital messages such as the ISNAP form used effectively by many jurisdictions to transmit reports and resource requests via HF radio during the exercise; conducting assessments of equipment and radios and discussionon ways to achieve effective systems as required. The state must develop a state-wide operational communications plan as part of the overarching effort to improve catastrophic planning. EMD should also develop an amateur radio SOP and sustain periodic training and exercises to foster amateur radio teamwork across 13 jurisdictions. Cascadia Rising demonstrated the need for jurisdictions in Western Washington and Eastern Washington to strengthen their capability to communicate effectively via alternate forms of communication (i.e. not telephone, email).

An article in The Spokesman-Review about the AAR has some good points about the importance of your local relationships in responding to this sort of disaster.

As Bob Wiese, coordinator for the Spokane area amateur radio system said, “If we do not know one another and each other’s strength as well as weaknesses, we cannot be expected to work seamlessly when we are called upon.”…

“The relationship piece is the key, not having to build a relationship in times of crisis lets you get down to the meat and potatoes of what needs to be accomplished on a quicker timeline,” [Lewis] said…

And that’s why the most effective preparedness is strong relationships… Neighbors will be the first responders in their own small piece of the world…

It’s not just the planners who need to think differently. It means consciously developing habitual relationships with neighbors, being individually prepared, knowing who needs help and who can provide help. And be ready to improvise.

If we’re going to survive and recover from a catastrophe, then we need to have already cultivated strong relationships with our neighbors and community. We need to be individually prepared so that we do not become a burden on those relationships, but can instead provide relief to those in need around us. This goes to the heart of what the LVA is about — building a strong, resilient community which can survive trying times.