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Western Washington University holds drill for “big one”

Take small steps now before ‘The Big One’ hits

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says preparedness is everyone’s job. Service providers, businesses, civic and volunteer groups, industry associations and neighborhood associations, as well as individuals, should plan ahead for disasters.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency says preparedness is everyone’s job. Service providers, businesses, civic and volunteer groups, industry associations and neighborhood associations, as well as individuals, should plan ahead for disasters.

Western Washington University employees practiced patient triage and surveyed simulated building damage Tuesday morning, June 7, as part of a region-wide, four-day earthquake preparation exercise.

The drill, which began around 9 a.m., was part of Cascadia Rising, a series of exercises from Tuesday to Friday, June 10, that aims to prepare officials for “the really big one,” an imminent 9.0-magnitude quake that experts predict could kill and injure tens of thousands in Washington and Oregon.

Emergency planners throughout the Pacific Northwest were scheduled to participate in the drills. In the Puget Sound region, the National Guard used pontoons to shuttle vehicles to Vashon Island as part of their simulation.

The WWU patient-triage drill took up only a small portion of the large, oval lawn outside the Communications Facility near 21st Street. Organizers had set up a canopy for shade, and three tarps — green, yellow and red — had been laid out nearby.

Holly Woll-Salkeld, a fire safety and emergency management officer with WWU Environmental Health and Safety, led the Tuesday morning drill, which involved six other staff members trained in either first aid or emergency response.

The exercise wasn’t extensive enough to distract passing students, but nearby two sandwich boards explained a drill was happening. Woll-Salkeld said the event’s timing around final exams, which began Monday, June 6, wasn’t lost on organizers.

“We didn’t want to get too many people wound up,” she said.

The group was tasked with providing triage to “patients on paper” — slips of paper with an imaginary patient’s age, sex and a description of their injuries. Injuries included cuts from broken glass, fingers smashed in a door and a head injury from a falling light fixture.

Group member Susanna Hamilton, the sustainability action plan coordinator in the university’s Office of Sustainability, read off the descriptions. The group then assigned each “patient” to one of the three tarps. The most serious injuries went to the red tarp; the ones that could wait for treatment went to the green.

The drill also had its curve balls, including a paper slip that simulated the arrival of 30 people, all with cuts and bruises to their arms and legs.

Elsewhere on campus, other participants were surveying simulated damage to university buildings, Woll-Salkeld said. Photographs of the buildings had been altered to appear as if they had been severely damaged in the quake, she added.

Summaries of the drills were to be compiled and given to Whatcom Unified Emergency Management to determine what assistance the county may need from the state to respond to such disasters, Woll-Salkeld said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says preparedness is everyone’s job. Service providers, businesses, civic and volunteer groups, industry associations and neighborhood associations, as well as individuals, should plan ahead for disasters.

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