This is a fictionalized account of a day in the State Emergency Operation’s Center during a pretend earthquake/tsunami disaster. This account is not real and should not be panicked about. For background information, please do see our previous blogs about the Cascadia Rising Exercise, 2016.
While I was participating in the exercise, I found it difficult to describe the work happening around me to friends. There are so many little pieces to keep track of and so many vague abbreviations and tasks to do. I thought a fictionalized “day in the life” might be both helpful and fun. This is a pretend day two when the responders have a good sense of the tasks before them, but still have a lot to do. Federal agents are on the scene and communications have been re-established so work is in full swing. I chose this day so that you can see the very wide variety and scope of problems that the State EOC had to deal with and the many different people helping. The meeting schedule is taken from several real meeting schedules that Cascadia Rising used though some things were edited for clarity and for drama.
7:30 am: Shift Change Briefing. All state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staff attend a meeting for getting updated on the disaster. Editor’s Note: For the Cascadia Rising Exercise, the night shift was “notional” which means it only existed on paper. Controllers delivered “injects” or pre-conceived, pretend-facts that the players have to respond to.
Last night, there was an aftershock and several gas lines lit fires. Pierce county needs fire trucks and state EOC employees are working to see who can supply them. Maybe the Department of Natural Resources? How about the National Guard?
8:30 am: Unified Coordination Group (UCG) Objectives Meeting. “Review and identify incident objectives for the next operational period.” Planning staff from all levels and branches of the government meet to discuss tomorrows priorities while operations staff work on today’s priorities.
Today we’re working on search and rescue, fire suppression establishing shelters, and assessing the damage to “critical infrastructure” like hospitals and police stations. Tomorrow, we should work on road clearing, getting fuel to vehicles in the field, getting the power grid back up, and sending food and water to shelters.
8:30 am: Command and General Staff Meeting:
The operations staff meet to discuss today’s priorities called “objectives”. (They were approved last night by the planning staff). The EOC supervisor briefs his Operations Chiefs and the Disaster Manager who will later need to liaise with the planning staff and politicians. Today, we’re working on search and rescue, mass care (medical care, housing, etc), damage assessment, fire suppression, road clearing, fuel line and power grid repairs, and body collection and identification. The operation’s staff are tracking more than 100 requests for help from the counties and tribes.
9:00 am: State Emergency Management Declaration Meeting
The Disaster Manager and other officials meet to decide whether this emergency is bad enough to warrant an official Disaster Declaration request by the governor. It is. In fact, the President has anticipated this and is standing by to grant the request immediately.
The EOC is relieved to hear that they have received a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Now they can easily receive Federal aid.
9:15 am: The Media Arrive: They want to know about the disaster declaration and the status of the response. They work closely with the SEOC to get important life-saving messages out to the people. Fun Fact: The media really did come into the SEOC during Cascadia Rising. The Governor did a pretend news briefing, and then the cameras came into the SEOC to interview the FEMA Region 10 Director and the Lead Controller about the exercise itself.
9:30 am: Fuel Task Force Meeting: How many lines are broken? How can we fix them?Who needs the fuel? How can we get them fuel for emergency use?
9:30 am: FEMA National Call: FEMA field agents meet with their national headquarters, military officials, and state officials via teleconferencing equipment. They compare notes and discuss resource requests. For instance, can the military let us use some helicopters for search and rescue operations, and some planes for fire suppression?
9:30 am: ESF 15 Local/State Coordination Call
Public Information Officers from FEMA, the state, the tribes, and counties, meet to discuss what to tell the public.
People are beginning to ask what to do with the bodies they’ve discovered.
What can we tell people about when power will be back up?
10:00 am: Tribal and Local Jurisdiction Conference Call
The conference call is piped in over the speakers onto the EOC floor. The EOC floor supervisor takes role call. Most of the counties have joined the call. One by one, they describe their needs and their own response activities. The King County emergency operation’s center had to move to their secondary site due to damage to their building. They give the group their new address and phone number. Klallam tribe has opened their casino and hotels as a shelter. Thurston county is stranded. Both Hwy 101 and the Nisqually bridge are damaged. The State asks the Army Corps of Engineers to see if they can fix the bridge and/or clear Hwy 101.
10:00 am: Critical Infrastructure Task Force
The task force members meet to update the incident map with damaged buildings, ports, and roads. They begin to prioritize needs. If we can fix some ports in Puget Sound, a navy vessel can bring supplies up from California. It might be faster than trying to clear enough roads to get trucks through.
The fuel-line fires are threatening some fueling stations.
10:30 am: Debris Task Force
US Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), US Coast Guard, Department of Transit, and Department of Ecology and others meet to discuss clearing roads and power lines.
11:00 am: Mass Care Conference Call with Local Jurisdictions
The Mass Care Taskforce needs to know more about which hospitals are functional, how many shelters should be set up, and to hear about what local jurisdictions need. Klallam tribe’s shelter is beginning to receive evacuees with pets. What should we do with them? The Red Cross is starting a blood drive and the Salvation Army is beginning to process donations.
11:30 pm: Lunch is served by building support staff.
12:00 pm: Draft requests for tomorrow due to Operations Section Chief
The State EOC operations staff have been tracking requests and make recommendations for tomorrow’s objectives. The various taskforces have recommendations too.
1:00 pm: EOC Update Briefing
The State EOC staff pause to get on the same page with one another. The state meteorologist gives a forecast. Incoming rain is good news for fire suppression but bad news for mass care shelters. They might need more tarps. The Public Information Officer finally gets an answer from the Department of Health about what to tell survivors about how to handle bodies. The Department of Ecology need hazmat teams to assess oil spills in the area.
1:30 pm: Oil and Hazmat Coordination Group. US Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department of Natural Resources, and State Department of Ecology meet to coordinate hazmat work.
2:00 pm: Congressional Conference Call
Disaster Manager and others call Washington, Oregon, Idaho, congressional delegations and other Federal partners to give an update of the situation.
One Washington state congresswoman is concerned about the damage to agriculture. Even though it’s very early in the response, the EOC staff do their best to give some projections to the congresswoman so she can prepare to help her constituents during long-term recovery.
2:30 pm: Power Task Force Meeting review and update strategies for getting the power back on.
3:00 pm: Tactics Meeting
Section chiefs, the State EOC supervisor, representatives from FEMA, the National Guard, and Northern Command (active duty military), meet to discuss tomorrow’s priorities. It takes a long time; there are many task assignments. A list of firefighting resources and contact info is added to the Joint Incident Action Plan. A last minute addition: Pierce county jail needs water and extra patrol.
4:00 pm: Principals Conference Call
The Emergency Management Division Director, Disaster Manager, and agency executives meet to discuss incident status, policy issues, and strategic messaging.
4:30 pm: UCG Huddle:
Coordinating officers (liaisons) meet to make sure inter-agency coordination is going well. Some state staff are having trouble using the FEMA request form.
5:00 pm: Elected Officials Call
Emergency Management Division Director, Disaster Manager, and the policy group, give an incident update to the Governor’s Chief of Staff and other elected officials.
6:00 pm: Planning Meeting
Everyone takes a look at the Joint Incident Action Plan which is a document with all the objectives that the Tactics Meeting approved, assignment lists for tomorrow, contact information, maps, and tomorrow’s meeting schedule. When it’s approved, the document get’s uploaded to the State and FEMA’s online sharing environment where it will guide tomorrow’s work.
7:00 pm: Shift Change
Thousands of local, state, and federal staff including many branches of the military have worked all day (and night) to save lives and property. And they’ll do it again tomorrow.
This is a dramatized account of a day in the State Emergency Operation’s Center during a pretend earthquake/tsunami disaster. This account is not real and should not be panicked about.