On guard: Drills simulate impact of mega-quake

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

If you noticed Army or National Guard personnel patrolling the area recently, don't worry; they're only responding to the 8.5 magnitude earthquake that struck just outside of Anchorage on Monday morning.

Missed the memo?

Members of the Alaska National Guard were joined last week by Outside forces as well as local responders for a simulated mega-earthquake response.

More than 50 agencies and 4,000 people participated in the training, called Vigilant Guard 2010.

While the quake was supposed to be centered near Anchorage, its effects on the state spider-legged outward, according to Staff Sgt. Craig Norton, a spokeperson with the Army who was based in Kenai for the drills.

Norton said that in this area they keyed in on potential scenarios involving disruptions to services, including the delivery of food, fuel and power, as well as possible scenarios where transportation infrastructure like runways, port facilities and bridges were damaged.

Norton said they were tasked with various drills, sometimes involving boots on the ground or sometimes just verbally going through processes.

The drills varied in their intensity.

In one case, a mission involved visually assessing the stability of a bridge, while in another, responders donned hazardous material suits to deal with an "ammonia leak" at a cannery.

The situations are developed out of real experiences, Norton said.

"We've had our lessons learned from different situations, such as Katirina and Haiti, and different natural disasters," he said. "We've done after-action reviews and said, 'This was a traumatic event, this is what happened, and this may happen here, so let's plan on that happening so we can better prepare ourselves.'"

The drills don't just account for the well being of residents. Norton said another drill was to involve a simulated transport of prisoners from the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward to Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai due to fake flooding at Spring Creek.

Norton said evaluations for the drills will look at whether responders successfully completed steps in the drill, as well as a look at communication.

The drills will wrapped up on Saturday.

The strongest earthquake ever to strike North America, with a magnitude of 9.2, occurred 75 miles east of Anchorage on March 27, 1964, leaving more than 130 people dead.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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