Earthquake anniversary will see big drill
Community asked to take part in statewide exercise that week
March 27 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 earthquake.
The anniversary date is usually passed quietly in Valdez; survivors of the quake, the largest ever recorded in North America, typically gather to remember those that perished and share memories of surviving the aftermath.
This year is likely to be the same. That cannot be said of the days following the anniversary. Emergency responders in Valdez have been quietly planning the town’s roll in statewide a disaster drill that will span several days beginning Friday, March 28, and include numerous simulations that will be highly visible to the community at large according to Sheri Pierce, the city’s public information officer.
“The majority of our exercise will be visible to the public and involve the activation of our Tsunami Siren,” Pierce said in a press statement earlier this month.
Emergency responders began testing the tsunami siren – the real siren – late Tuesday afternoon, with a second pre-drill test slated for Wednesday.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says it will test the statewide tsunami warning system Thursday, March 27 at 10:15 a.m.
“The emergency test will be broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, local television and radio stations, and residents in some communities may hear warning sirens. To avoid any confusion with an actual alert the test will be canceled if there is excessive seismic activity 24 hours prior to the test,” NOAA said in a press release Monday. “Many television systems are programmed to scroll a standard emergency alert text message and in some cases, the message may not contain the word “TEST.” An audio message will say that the message is only a test, but if the volume is turned down or otherwise unheard, viewers may not realize the message is a test. In addition, siren audio may not contain the word “TEST.””
On Monday, George Keeney, Valdez fire chief, sent out an email asking for a large number of volunteers in Valdez to act as injured disaster victims, place key phone calls during the drill, those willing to hand out flyers during certain times and other jobs large and small that will rely on ordinary citizens to make the exercise a success.
“In order to make this a great exercise I need lots of volunteers. Please pass the word and send them our way,” Keeney wrote. “Call Karen Feero and let her know what you can help on. This exercise helps prepare US FOR THE REAL DISASTER.”
Feero can be reached at 834-3418. Keeney advised that callers should leave a message if she is not at her desk.
The statewide drill, dubbed Alaska Shield, begins in Valdez a week from Friday when the city plans to open an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Valdez Civic Center. The drill will include operations simulating conditions without landline or cellphone service for responders; search and rescue operations with the Alaska National Guard, the US Coast Guard and other state, federal and local emergency responders will occur Saturday and Sunday.
Volunteers will be needed for these operations, including people willing to be “Moulaged and looking bad!” in the words of Keeney.
Moulage is a French word meaning “the art of applying mock injuries.”
Valdez participated in a similar statewide exercise in 2010.
Other communities throughout the state will hold similar drills and exercises. It is so big – and important – it is being incorporated into the nationwide FEMA exercise.
According to NOAA, Alaska Shield 2014, “is based on the 1964 event being led by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Recognizing the significance of the event and the importance of the exercise, FEMA has incorporated Alaska Shield 2014 into its Capstone Exercise 2014, a complex, national-level emergency preparedness exercise that will bring together federal, state, local, tribal, private sector and other officials and representatives to assess the nation’s collective preparedness for large-scale disasters.”
Can’t participate in the upcoming drill?
That’s okay; however, emergency responders from local entities on up recommend all households make time to review personal emergency plans, check emergency supplies and review how you and your loved ones will take care of yourselves – and each other – the next time a real disaster strikes.