Anchorage Office of Emergency Management Readies For Earthquake Drill

Anchorage is readying to take part in the Alaska Shield earthquake preparedness drill on Thursday, March 27.  The city’s Office of Emergency Management is located in an anonymous building on a quiet side street in midtown. Inside, there’s a seemingly haphazard arrangement of desks, but there is a method in it all.

 Director Kevin Spillers, invited the media into the office a couple of weeks ago. OEM personnel wanted to show how they work, if, or when, disaster strikes. Spillers says the city’s Emergency Operations Center , or EOC, is located within OEM

 “We are stewards of EOC. we are lead agency for city’s emergency preparedness activities.. EOC is a facility, until it is activated, then becomes the lead agency for response and recovery activities ” Spillers says.

The EOC is only activated in times of great stress, such as on September 11, 2001 or during the anticipated Y2K event at the turn of the century.

According to Spillers, when the EOC is activated, it focuses on emerging response and sets priorities, so that other agencies don’t step on each others toes.

Michelle Torres is the public information officer at OEM. She says Anchorage has three top threats:

“Earthquake, wildfire and severe winter storms.  With severe winter storms we see a lot of wind, but that is not all we want you to get prepared for.”

The 1964 Alaska earthquake was the second largest ever recorded.. one in Chile in 1960 was larger. But the Great Alaska Quake, as it is termed, was the largest ever in North America. Torres says, this week’s drills will be earthquake and tsunami oriented. She says emergency officials estimate that in a city of roughly 300 thousand people.

“If we had an earthquake in March of 2014, or whenever, we are looking at about 530 deaths, injuries in the 6000s, so we are looking to shelter over 42 thousand people, pets 19 thousand, slightly over, feeding and hydration.. 145 thousand people — 49 point seven percent of the population of Anchorage. So you know what that tells me right there. Our citizens and our residents are not prepared. So the question.. is how prepared are you at home?”  Torres asked reporters.

 She urges everyone to have an emergency kit, and emergency escape route and a family emergency plan in the event of another disaster, like the one that struck Anchorage in 1964.

Torres says many different aspects of emergency response must work closely together while avoiding overlap when the EOC kicks in in the event of a disaster.

 She says Alaska has more than half the earthquakes in the US.

 Spillers says, in the eventuality of evacuations, the city already has shelters lined up

 “We would use designated facilities, primarily rec centers and the schools. There are 22 of them,” he says.

 The municipality will hold a “Great Alaska Shakeout ” drill on Thursday, March 27 at 1:36 pm. All municipal departments will participate as will all schools within the Anchorage School District. Torres says, the international protocol of “Drop, Cover and Hold On” is recommended by official rescue teams the world over. If the Earth shakes, Drop to the ground, take Cover under a sturdy table or desk, and Hold on till the shaking stops. Many earthquake injuries are the result of flying glass and falling debris, rather than the result of collapsed housing.

 Also on Thursday, tsunami sirens may ring out in coastal communities, and a tsunami warning my hit television screens and radios between 10:15 am and 10:45 am.

 March 24 through 28 is Anchorage’s offical Earthquake Preparedness Week. I’m Ellen Lockyer