If you are anything like me, the recent natural disasters in other parts of the country and around the globe may have you thinking about how our community would fare in the face of a similarly catastrophic event. For several years, experts have been preparing us for the possibility of Cascadia Subduction zone earthquakes. These quakes are capable of magnitudes of 7.0 to over 9.0.
A quake of this size would most certainly render the roadways impassable as bridges would collapse and the transportation of goods and services via traditional roadways would cease. This sounds scary until you remember that we have access to other viable thoroughfares in both our local waterways and air. Sea and air could be the only way to move people and goods throughout the region after such a catastrophic natural event. Working with agencies throughout the region, the Port of Olympia is fully prepared to support our area in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.
I sat down with Jennie Foglia-Jones, Communications, Marketing and Outreach Manager for the Port of Olympia to learn more about what the Port is actively working on to support the region in the event of an emergency. “September is Emergency Preparedness Month so we wanted to highlight the role the Port of Olympia plays not only in preparedness but in providing crucial services to the area in the event of a smaller scale emergency or a natural disaster,” shares Foglia-Jones. Some may think the Port only provides economic development benefits through their four business operations of an international shipping terminal, marina and boatworks, regional airport and real estate. However, the Port of Olympia plays a much more vital role in our community.
Since the tragic events surrounding 9/11, US ports have been tasked with greater regional responsibilities in emergency preparedness and community support. With Homeland Security grants, the Port of Olympia has purchased equipment that will serve the community in the event of a disaster.
One example of this type of equipment is the massive generators that can be deployed to provide power where needed. In addition to assets, the Port remains involved with other regional and state organizations including the Department of Homeland Security through the U.S. Coast Guard, Thurston County Emergency Management, and Emergency Management Division of Washington. Through these contacts, the Port of Olympia participated in Cascadia Rising, the largest drill ever conducted in the Pacific Northwest, to test the region’s response to a seismic event.
The Port of Olympia is prepared for many types of emergencies, not just major disasters, and they partner with many local agencies to provide the best service and emergency response to the community. The marine terminal is used for training by area fire departments and the Thurston County dive team who undertake search and rescue training. The City of Olympia police department conduct crowd control and motorcycle exercises and the Washington State Patrol use the marine terminal for Drug and Bomb K-9 training. In the event of a catastrophe, the marine terminal is the home to many large pieces of equipment that could be used in various ways.
The Port of Olympia is also an alternate port for Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). Port of Tacoma is the primary port with Olympia being their secondary location. In time of war, public ports can be used by the military to protect our citizens.
Swantown Marina and Boatworks are home to the Harbor Patrol and the Port Emergency Response Vessel that is jointly operated by the Port and the Thurston County Sheriff. This boat is capable of everything from offshore firefighting to offshore oil spill response.
It may not have been a natural disaster, but it was certainly a major emergency when the Harbor Patrol received a call about a boat adrift without power in the dark. Harbor Patrol was able to tow the boat and get all 11 passengers, including two children, to safety. In the past nine months, the Harbor Patrol has removed 33 hazards to navigation and towed 16 vessels to safety. According to Harbor Patrol volunteer Nick Kirchoff, “The Port of Olympia is very supportive of our efforts and appreciates that we want to help people and be of service to the boating community.” Kirchoff is one of 27 volunteers in the Harbor Patrol.
In the event of a catastrophic natural disaster, the Olympia Regional Airport would become command central for our region. Operated by the Port, the Olympia Regional Airport is home to Airlift NW and Washington State Patrol Aviation. Also, critically important to our region is the Department of Natural Resources helicopter fire response, who also train at the Olympia airport. When aircraft are not using the runways, the Port provides space for local first responders to conduct driver training including local fire departments, police departments, the Thurston County Sheriff’s office and Intercity Transit. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Department also conducts their K-9 apprehension training at the Olympia Regional Airport.
Next time you see a cargo ship underway in or out of Budd Inlet, think about the myriad ways that the Port of Olympia is working to create resiliency in our community, required to thrive not only in day-to day emergencies, but in a post-disaster environment.
For more information on the Port of Olympia visit their website at www.portolympia.com