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How lessons from pandemics can help Washington prepare for the next earthquake


Washington has been dealing with disaster for the past year, and the lessons learned from the response to COVID-19 can be useful for earthquake preparedness.

EDMONDS, Washington – We may not think of COVID-19 as a disaster in the traditional sense like an earthquake or a hurricane, but Washington State is treating it as one and with good reason.

“The impact on individuals, the impacts on our community – there is absolutely no doubt that this is a huge disaster,” said Robert Eisel, director of the Washington Emergency Management Division (EMD), which is part of the state’s military administration.

No buildings have fallen, bridges have not collapsed, the power grid has not been cut, but much supplies need to be obtained and transported. There is a lot of ongoing coordination and facilitation of communications between the federal government, the Washington State Department of Health, and other government agencies.

Already, rangers have chased and coordinated the delivery of nearly 200 million items of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and face shields, especially when these items were so short in the early months of the pandemic.

But in emergency management, the idea is to not waste anything, including lessons that can be applied to the next disaster, which could be a massive coastal earthquake and tsunami.

“As for the Cascadia Subduction Zone response to the tsunami, you’re talking years and years and years of recovery,” said Maximilian Dickson, who directs earthquake preparedness and awareness at EMD.

This shows one of the biggest outcomes from COVID: the long term.

EMD’s Emergency Operations Center has been open for more than 400 consecutive days. It started in early 2020 to help coordinate response to a major snow event and has moved to COVID without interruption. Based on what they know about the pandemic, Ezil says, it may not decline until early 2022.

However, it is still better than the first months of the epidemic.

“The workload was unbelievable – he spent some terrifying long days,” said Ezel. “It was all on deck.”

Meanwhile, work continues to prepare the country for a disaster like the earthquake. This spring will start a big batch to get ready for CR-2, which is a massive multi-day workout. The CR-2 follows an earlier exercise in 2016 called Cascadia Rising, which was designed to test the state’s response to a massive disaster from a magnitude 9 earthquake along the Washington coast.

Lessons learned from the Coronavirus will be on the agenda.

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