Portable communication trailers, emergency vehicles and other boxes-on-wheels that hold a lot of emergency radio equipment were set up Friday, up and down the Oregon coast, to begin running a test of an emergency radio communications system which will be necessary in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and the tsunami that follows. These “ham radio” set-ups will likely be the coast’s main communications to the outside world for several weeks following the “big event.”
The drill is a collaboration betweens law enforcement and “hams” to make a go of using gas or diesel generators or solar panels to generate the electricity for extended radio operations – to let the rest of the state and beyond know what the people trapped on the coast need.
The drill is a real life exercise of the coast communicating to the Willamette Valley and beyond. Coast operators will relay requests for food, shelter, emergency supplies including medicines and they will announce survivor gathering areas and helicopter landing sites to evacuate the more critically injured. These radio operators will be relaying information gleaned from sheriff, police, OSP and fire-rescue radio channels so communications will be seamless. They’ll also be able to talk with Oregon and other National Guard units that will swing into action moments after the ground stops shaking.
These radio relay stations are operating along the entire Oregon coast from Astoria to near the California border. Situation reports from community to community will be relayed up and down the coast using hand held radios. That information will be relayed to the communications hubs, shared with law enforcement and other authorities as well as with emergency response officials in Salem and Bend. In the event of a Cascadia earthquake, the Willamette Valley may fare better than the coast, but probably not by much. So Bend is the ultimate fall back position for rescue and evacuations and for the logistical delivery of food, supplies and other relief materials by helicopter.
The Redmond Airport will be the hub of incoming and outgoing relief and rescue operations mainly because Portland International Airport (PDX) will, by then, be on the bottom of the Columbia River. PDX was built on river fill back in the day when nobody knew about the earthquake dangers lurking off the northwest coast. Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle may also be crippled but at least it was build on solid ground and could probably be back in action in a fairly short amount of time.
The coast emergency communications drill continued overnight and will wrap up by 1pm Saturday. We’ll see how the exercise went.