Exercise Offers 'Fault'-Free Environment to Discuss Earthquake Recovery

Exercise Offers 'Fault'-Free Environment to Discuss Earthquake Recovery

Research geologist Jeri Young of the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) describes the characteristics of an earthquake. AZGS was one of 40 organizations to participate in a tabletop discussion about earthquake recovery hosted by DEMA last month.

PHOENIX—The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) hosted a tabletop exercise in mid-June to identify, disentangle and discuss the hardships a community impacted by an earthquake might face during a long and complicated recovery.

Last month’s exercise picked up where the statewide exercise in November 2015 left off—an earthquake followed by a series of aftershocks had damaged roadways, bridges, schools and buildings in the Chino Valley and Paulden areas. Nichole Fortson, the State Exercise Coordinator, said DEMA settled on the earthquake scenario because of a seismic events potential to do widespread and indelible damage.

Tabletop exercises are discussion-based. Participants met to discuss their roles and responsibilities in response to a simulated emergency scenario. Whereas the November exercise tested the state and counties’ combined ability to respond to life safety needs in the first 72 hours, the June tabletop shifted the focus to immediate (i.e, 3 days) and extended (i.e., 3 weeks) recovery.

Eighty-eight individuals representing 40 state and local agencies turned out to discuss the challenges of recovering two communities devastated by an earthquake. Participants were asked—among other things—to describe how they would share resources and information, to identify available resources in the Whole Community, and to discuss how and in what capacity those resources could be brought to bear.

“The earthquake scenario presented some unique recovery challenges that were interesting to talk through,” observed Rebecca Trayler, Infrastructure (Recovery) Coordinator. “One of the Recovery Branch's primary goals is to always seek new partners for recovery efforts. Every agency brings something unique and different.”

Fortson knows about exercise design and facilitation. She said tabletop moderators rarely—if ever—get conclusive answers to their open-ended questions, but that doesn’t make the exercise a failure. The purpose of any exercise, she said, regardless of scenario is not to get answers but to raise more questions and—in doing so--to improve planning and facilitate communication between stakeholders.

“The exercise verified how vital it is to know the capabilities of others that can help you,” said Fortson. “The exercise identified many issues and questions that agencies have in order to recover the community from an earthquake. Many agencies will have to work together to find those answers through training, education and additional exercises.”

One lesson learned that came out of the June tabletop is that counties and municipalities need to have recovery plans. Trayler said a major earthquake in Arizona could have devastating consequences that response agencies can mitigate through continual planning, training and exercise, and relationship and capacity building for all hazards no matter the probability.

Earthquakes are not the same cause for concern in Arizona as they are in California; however, they are a hazard to be aware of and prepare for. According to the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS), the fault lines that crisscross Arizona, adjacent states and Mexico are capable of earthquakes magnitude 6.0 to magnitude 7.0. Coconino, Greenlee, Mohave, Pima, Yavapai and Yuma counties are at the greatest risk for a strong earthquake, but no part of the state is completely out of the proverbial woods.

Arizonans live with the threat of earthquakes like they live with the threat of wildfire and flooding; but, that doesn’t preclude people from preparing for the potential impacts of all hazards. Individuals who have a Family Communication Plan, build an emergency supplies kit, are informed of local hazards and emergency plans, and inspire others to prepare are the builders of disaster resilient communities.

Plans and kits, however, must be updated and occasionally tested. Exercises like the ones held last November and in June are designed to bring state agencies, local governments, nonprofits and the private sector together, and raise awareness of each other’s capabilities.

Likewise, the Great Arizona ShakeOut is an opportunity for the Whole Community to test its ability to safely respond to an earthquake. The annual earthquake preparedness drill is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20, at 10:20 a.m. At that date and time, individuals across Arizona will Drop to the ground; Take Cover under a sturdy table or desk and protect your head and neck; and Hold On for 60 seconds.

For more information on ShakeOut and/or to register your school or business, visit http://shakeout.org/arizona/register/index.php