By plane and by bike, civilian pilots and cyclists in the North West rehearse to provide assistance after “The Big One”


A huge dress rehearsal for regional earthquake relief was due to take place next week until the ongoing pandemic forced its cancellation. The cleaned-up Cascadia Rising exercise reportedly involved more than 22,000 participants – mostly US soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as state, local and tribal emergency planners. Some smaller exercises are taking place this weekend and next with civilian volunteers who will demonstrate unusual ways to help Pacific Northwest earthquake survivors.

This Saturday, June 11, approximately 40-50 cargo cyclists will participate in a disaster relief exercise in Portland. The following weekend, June 18, more than 100 private pilots from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia will fly in to ferry food from airfield to airfield as part of a another simulated relief effort.

Drilling scenarios involve a full magnitude 9.0 earthquake fault fault off Cascadia, Vancouver Island in Northern California – aka “The Big One”. This results in widespread devastation west of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington State. Highways to the east, north and south are cut off.

Private pilots and cyclists will take to the air and the streets separately this month to practice delivering relief after a catastrophic earthquake.

Clallam County DART, 2019 (left) / Sara Harrington, Disaster Relief Trials 2016 (right)

In this worst-case scenario, help will come from above, said the aptly named Sky Terry, the North West regional manager of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps. Terry compared his organization’s one-day exercise on June 18 to a “Berlin airlift effort.”

“The other analogy would be the jump between China and Burma in World War II,” Terry said in an interview. “You lose the land route. All you have is air to power everything and keep it running.”

Terry said private pilots are ready to step into the breach, presumably alongside the National Guard when the Big One happens for real. The offshore fault last ruptured in January 1700, generating a tsunami that crossed the Pacific to Japan. Cascadia megaquakes typically occur every 250 to 800 years. This places the present well in the return window.

The air rescue exercise, nicknamed Thunder Runwill begin with private pilots taking off from Walla Walla, Washington, and Langley, British Columbia, where boxes of food are stored for distribution in western Washington and Oregon.

“The way of looking at Walla Walla is that it’s the non-impact zone hub for general aviation response,” said Terry, who was formerly a communications operator in the US military. “It’s the aircraft carrier that’s just outside the combat zone and providing support in the fray, but the planes can come back and the resources can come back and it still has all the normal communications with the world. outside.”

But wait, won’t destination airports such as Renton, Bellingham, Hoquiam, Shelton and Port Angeles in Washington and Aurora, Albany and Creswell in Oregon be destroyed and unusable after the Big One? Terry replied that the backbone of the private airlift will be small, nimble Cessnas, Bonanzas, Mooneys and Pipers.

“We don’t necessarily have to use an airport,” Terry said. “We can use a stretch of freeway 101 or I-5 or any long stretch of two-lane highway. That way we’re not totally dependent on every airport surviving.”

Event organizers collected approximately 60,000 pounds of canned food for the day-long exercise. Volunteer pilots, amateur radio operators and ground crews from destinations, including Civil Air Patrol, will hand over shipments to food banks to simulate aid delivery in an earthquake-stricken area.

Terry said another goal was to demonstrate general aviation capabilities to state and federal authorities and inspire confidence. It caught the attention of the Washington State Division of Emergency Management, of which Robert Ezelle is the director.

“When our state experiences the predicted Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, it will take every resource we have to get our communities the help they need,” Ezelle told Public Radio via email. “Volunteers will be a necessity, and we are constantly reviewing how they will be incorporated into our response.”

Cargo bikes to the rescue too

Separate from the air rescue exercise, Portland cyclists will practice distributing disaster relief on two wheels. Not just any two-wheelers – on heavy-duty cargo bikes, some capable of weighing up to 200 pounds. Event co-founder Mike Cobb said cargo bikes are ideal for getting last-mile airlifted supplies to recipients in neighborhoods.

“There could be 3,000 or 5,000 cargo bikers in Portland. You can bet a good chunk of those people will want to help out,” Cobb said. “So we’re going to optimize a system to deploy these willing and capable cargo bikers.”

This will be the sixth edition in Portland of what is called disaster relief trials. Previously, there were spin-off cycling events in Seattle, Bend, and Eugene. Cobb says the exercise takes the form of friendly competition. Cyclists must visit seven checkpoints during Saturday’s exercise, picking up goods along the way and climbing obstacles meant to mimic wreckage from the quake, including a meter-high barrier.

“Preparation doesn’t have to be austere, laborious and boring,” Cobb said. “If it’s all of those things, you’ll get less citizen participation.”

Cobb explained that he and his co-organizers coordinated with the Portland Office of Emergency Management so that the cargo bike competition represents a realistic extension of the neighborhood’s disaster relief plans. The office helps promote the event.

If you don’t own a small plane or a cargo bike, there are other ways to get inspired to prepare for the Big One. The 2022 Disaster Relief Trials start and finish line in northeast Portland’s Cully Park will simultaneously be the scene of a resilience fair on June 11. Manzanita will host its own civil security fair on June 16. In coastal Lincoln County, Oregon, communities of Depoe Bay, Newport and Lincoln City are also hosting disaster rehearsals heavily reliant on volunteers in the coming days.


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