Living in a mountainous and geologically active area like the Northwest has its perks. The mountains bring topographical variety, and with it, plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Indeed, the area is shaped by subduction zones where the earth's tectonic plates meet, which is also where earthquakes occur. Though there are thousands of earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest annually, many go unnoticed to the casual observer. They are too remote, deep, or short to have any real impact.
Save one, which has yet to occur in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, for which Idaho, Oregon and Washington are preparing.
The science behind it was conclusively proven 20 years ago, and it is predicted to happen within the next 200 years -- with 1-in-3 odds of occurring in the next 50 years.
“If you look over time, earthquakes should fill in all the gaps along a subduction zone. If you look at the Cascadian Subduction Zone and compare it to other subduction zones around the world, there is a lack of large quakes in recent history,” says T. Dylan Mikesell, Associate Professor of Geosciences at Boise State University. “There’s potential we could have a large earthquake since we haven’t had one in the last 300 years.”
The fault runs some 700 miles from California to Vancouver Island underneath the Pacific Ocean.
If a quake occurs, hundreds of thousands could die, and millions could be displaced causing a mass immigration across the country including Idaho.
“We should also expect to see, you know, a massive amount of displaced persons coming into Idaho,” said Major Chris Borders of the Idaho National Guard.
The possibility of this megaquake's occurrence means that state agencies such as Idaho Homeland Security regularly review emergency plans and procedures. But Cascadia Rising is the first-of-its-kind interstate exercise between Oregon Washington and Idaho. It is a 4 day multi-state exercise designed to test the states -- organized in FEMA Region 10 -- capability to respond to such an earthquake.
Idaho's role in the exercise is to provide all manner of communication and logistical response, including communications.
“There are a lot of processes that are in place to make sure that we can really maximize how much we test ourselves and our plans,” said Elizabeth Duncan, the Public Information Officer for the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.
To assist in training, several rooms have been dedicated to a wide array of technology to increase the possibility of better emergency communication. One is the radio room at Homeland Security.
“This room has access to virtually all the radio frequencies on the planet,” says Bob Wells, the Program Manager of Auxillary Communications Services for the Idaho Department of Homeland Security. The room has a lot of high-end consumer -- but unblocked -- HAM (High Amplitude Modulation) radios, in addition to radios that are rack-mounted and have a simple numeric keypad interface. If the internet is out, and all other modern technology ceases to function, emergency planners have options. Including a way to link telephone, fax, and internet communications...
Despite the drills and planning, Homeland Security says the best way to keep people safe and secure is to have your own emergency plan just in case.
“There’s only so much that others can do, we have to make sure that our families have our own plans in place,” says Elizabeth Duncan.