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SALEM — In one of the first drills in a four-day exercise to test Oregon’s preparedness for a catastrophic earthquake, the Oregon Army National Guard whisked the governor away in a helicopter to survey the damage.


While the drills were instructional on better ways to prepare, people familiar with federal modeling of a 9.0- or greater-magnitude earthquake say the exercise tested an optimistic scenario.

“The notion that they are going to spin up in a helicopter on the first day is probably unrealistic,” said Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness. “We probably aren’t going to have any fuel to do anything.”

The Cascadia Rising exercise tested a scenario in which a massive quake strikes and damages 10,000 Pacific Northwest buildings, bridges and structures; forces more than 10,000 people into shelters; and causes about $50 billion in economic damages.

Geologists believe the Pacific Northwest is at risk of a 9.0- or greater-magnitude earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. About 15 million people live in the subduction zone, which is under the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast, stretching from British Columbia to Northern California.

The four-day simulation of the earthquake and tsunami started Tuesday, June 7, with Brown declaring a catastrophic disaster and notifying federal and out-of-state authorities of the need for assistance.

Dozens of drills around the state followed in the following days.

Portland Fire and Rescue and the Air Force Reserve performed joint rescue and recovery operations, such as mass casualty treatment, rooftop extraction and collapsed space rescue operation.

In Warrenton, about 800 soldiers assembled at Camp Rilea and ran through a series of simulated rescue operations. Soldiers moved and broke up heavy boulders from a rubble pile to reach victims. They practiced bringing casualties to a centralized site and checked the area for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials, while decontaminating people suspected of exposure.

Meanwhile, county emergency operations staff practiced communicating and coordinating efforts with local agencies and military personnel. They performed successful amateur radio operations with other emergency responders in the state and as far as Bothell, Wash.

With the possibility of weeks without electricity, amateur radios may be the only way for emergency responders to communicate, said Cory Grogan, a spokesman for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

“It’s really clear that there is more work to be done in terms of being prepared, thinking through what you need to have in place in terms of folks ready to rock and roll and ready to go,” Gov. Brown said. “The reality is that, for example, for our National Guardsmen and women, we may only be able to activate 20 to 50 percent of them, and so what other resources can we deploy? How can we make sure we have the resources and tools we need as quickly as possible in this type of situation?”

Grogan said one thing he learned during the exercise was the need to develop scripted messages to streamline the process of notifying residents that they need to boil water, and communicate other life-saving information.

“You’re hearing a lot about the major mechanical aspects of this, but those first 36 to 72 hours where the lifesaving measures are really going to be had is neighbor-to-neighbor looking out for each other, being able to assist, knowing that they have got those personal readiness kits ready as they wait out that federal response,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel, the adjutant general of Oregon. “Again, a lot of roads and infrastructure is going to be coming down, and we are going to be relying on people to be able to look out for themselves and help their neighbor until that major logistical response is able to get on scene and take us to the next level.”

Erick Bengel of The Daily Astorian contributed to this report.

Chain of command in Oregon

Who takes over if the governor is lost in a massive earthquake?

The governor could be among the thousands of casualties, or unreachable because of crumbled bridges and roads. Fuel lines could be damaged, and the rail system would be halted, if not damaged, so few people or things would be moving, said Sen. Brian Boquist R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness.

In 2012, voters approved a constitutional amendment that provided a mechanism for government to continue after a catastrophic event. The amendment allows the governor or someone in the line of succession to declare a catastrophic disaster and call the Legislature into session anywhere in the state, with as little as one member of the House and one member of the Senate.

During Gov. John Kitzhaber’s inauguration ceremony at the State Capitol in January 2015, then-Secretary of State Kate Brown, Senate President Pro Tempore Ginny Burdick and House Speaker Pro Tempore Tobias Read were held at a seismically safe National Guard facility in Salem. Boquist suggested the precaution to ensure the continuity of government in the event that Kitzhaber and others in the line of succession were killed during the ceremony.

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