Drilling down: How we prepare for the really big one

On Tuesday, September 21, Public Health staff, along with partners from the Washington Department of Health, participated in a drill to help us practice emergency response. During a drill, we are given an initial scenario along with frequent “injects,” or new curve balls that require a reaction, to make the experience more true to life.

Drills vary in scope – some last days and others are simply “tabletop” discussions. This time we spent two hours (plus some prep time and debrief time) “playing” as though an earthquake had occurred less than 48 hours ago. We focused on our behavioral health response and completing the following objectives:

  • Support Regional Shelter operations to ensure Public Health through deployment of environmental health personnel, medical first aid teams and filling resource requests.
  • Activate Behavioral Health Response plan; assess and develop a plan to address behavioral health needs.
  • Fill public health and medical resource requests assigned to ESF 8.
  • Receive and integrate the WA DOH Incident Management Team into Health and Area Medical Command (HMAC); provide a coordinated response.
  • Provide accurate and timely public information that is consistent with regional and state messaging.

Here’s what happened in this fast-paced, 120-minute exercise:

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1315: Unified Command Objectives Meeting

The stage was set. In this scenario, a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake occurred Sunday, September 20, at 1900 (7 p.m.). The epicenter of the earthquake was 95 miles west of Eugene, Oregon. The earthquake generated a tsunami that devastated many coastal communities. Western Washington had experienced intense ground shaking, landslides, tsunamis, fires, hazardous material spills, and building damage. There had been thousands of casualties and many individuals have been displaced. King County Office of Emergency Management (KCOEM) was managing a regional shelter at Overlake Christian Center in Redmond for 300 people. Public Health was supporting the shelters and providing first aid.

We were situated into five sections: operations, logistics, finance, communications, and liaison. Each section had a leader, and they all reported to the incident command system (ICS) commander.

1320: Equity Liaison and External Communications managers discussed messaging in languages other than English.

1320: The King County Office of Emergency Management (KCOEM) requested that Public Health send staff to advise and assist with food safety and sanitation at the shelter.

1335: Command and General Staff Briefing was held. The IAP (incident action plan) is updated.

1330: A location for a volunteer coordinating center was requested and procured. The facility was large enough to accommodate 50+ volunteers, was Wi-Fi enabled, and had security and bathrooms.

1340: INJECT: An 85-year-old man dies at the shelter.

1345: INJECT: KOMO news station called to inquire about death at the shelter. Media was redirected to the joint information center (JIC).

KCOEM were given instructions about how to respond to death at shelter. The Public Information Officer (PIO) was notified.

1356: Crutches for Redmond/Overlake Church Shelter were procured for 2 children and 8 adults

1400: INJECT: A resident seeking shelter brought a miniature horse in the shelter. The JIC was contacted to confirm that the horse was a service animal.

The content lead started developing key messages about behavioral health.

1402: We requested and procured 1000 masks for the Redmond alternate care facility.

1405: The medical teams reported stomach cramps and diarrhea at the shelter.

1410: Tactics Meeting was held.

Content lead coordinated with social media lead about reported illnesses in shelters from social media perspective.

1415: We requested and procured 10 medical cots for elderly residents. Residents were unable to use regular cots, so this required a special order.

The social media lead began developing key messages about pets and service animals in shelters.

1417: INJECT: The JIC reported that Pierce County was sharing info about a shelter that isn’t open.

1422: Our Public Information Officer called Pierce County PIO to coordinate shelter messages.

1420: INJECT: People were getting sick at Overlake and need support.

1428: INJECT: Shelters were overwhelmed by decedents and requested a DMORT – Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team – to help with victim identification and mortuary services. Body bags were also requested from the Medical Examiner’s office.

1430: We updated plan to translate materials in other languages. These messages were pushed to ethinc media, and the Community Communication Network were activated. Translation agencies were put on alert for rapid turnaround need for incoming documents.

1434: The PIO conferred with the JIC about the social media rumors about illnesses in shelters.

1440: The PIO approved behavioral health messages. They were passed to the Behavioral Health Director for final approval.

Pets and service animal key messages were revised.

1445: Planning Meeting was held.

Department leadership was briefed.

1500: Operations Briefing was held.

1600: Drill ended.