Vigilant Guard earthquake drill begins
A 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked the Eastern Sierra Thursday morning, disrupting the every day routine of life for hundreds of thousands of people.
Yet, residents did not feel the ground shake violently, nor did they hear the earth ripping apart at the seams nor did they see their worldly possessions tumble to the floor.
The earthquake scenario initiated one of the largest disaster drills in Nevada by involving many local, state and federal agencies from the Silver State and California. Besides the Carson City area, other counties involved in the exercise include Washoe, Douglas, Storey, Lyon and Churchill. The Fallon drill will have three scenarios today and one on Saturday.
“This is an exciting time for us to test our capabilities,” Frank Siracusa, director of the Nevada Department of Emergency Management, said. “The name of the game is preparedness. We owe it to the general public to be as prepared as we can and to test the capabilities of the state to respond to a catastrophic event.”
Siracusa, along with other key speakers, held a press conference Thursday at the DEM in Carson City to kick off the disaster drill.
For the next week, the Vigilant Guard ’08 exercise, a full-scale, $1.5 million emergency preparedness drill funded by the federal government, will test the expertise and coordination of local, state and federal civilians and the National Guard. Approximately 1,750 National Guardsmen from seven states and the U.S. Territory of Guam are dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
The National Guard expects to have 70 trucks and Humvees in addition to 12 helicopters, six C130s, one KC-135 and one C-17 aircraft. NAS Fallon expects to use a C-130, an unmanned Predator, Raven and two to three OH58 helicopters for intelligence-gathering exercises.
Volunteers also signed up to play the role of victims.
According to the DEM, the scenario simulates a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred at 6 a.m. on Thursday.
Siracusa said all state agencies and their federal counterparts will coordinate their response to this earthquake which affected six counties in Nevada and numerous communities in the Lake Tahoe area. The California counties of El Dorado and Sierra are participating as are California’s Office of Emergency Services and Division of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The federal government requires each state to conduct a drill involving some type of natural disaster.
“We picked earthquakes because we are in a very seismic active area in Nevada, and this will test our capabilities with an earthquake,” Siracusa said. “We train, we plan, we exercise everyday of the week,” he said. “On a daily basis, we work with local government.”
Although the exercise has been in the planning stage for a year, Nevada has had its share of seismic activity in 2008. An earthquakes hit Wells in eastern Nevada in early February, and a series of small earthquakes have been recorded in the Mogul area west of Reno.
“We’ve been going through a series of earthquakes,” said Gov. Jim Gibbons, adding that he’s been told a major earthquake could occur in this area.
He, along with Siracusa, said all the agencies will learn something from the exercise.
“When this is done, we’ll have a whole laundry list on what we have to improve,” Siracusa said.
Dr. Jonathan Price, state geologist for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, said a 7.1 earthquake has happened on the Mount Rose Fault in the geological past and will happen there in the future.
He said the Vigilant Guard ’08 exercise is using a FEMA loss estimate module. Price said upward to 20,000 buildings could be damaged, and the loss could range between $3 billion to $11 billion. Approximately 400 people would die.
“This is a major event, but not a worst case scenario,” he said.
The module indicates that most of the counties in western Nevada and eastern California would be affected.
“The chance of a magnitude 7 earthquake or greater in 50 years would be between 12 and 15 percent based on our knowledge of seismic activity in the area,” he said.
He added the probability increases upward to 75 percent for a magnitude 6 earthquake.
“A major earthquake will happen sooner or later,” he said.
During the exercise, numerous military personnel and vehicles will be traversing Nevada’s highways and country lanes.
“There will be a heavy military presence in the air and on the road,” said Dan Burns, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Public Safety. “There will also be a large first responder presence through the weekend.”
Maj. Gen. Cindy Kirkland, adjutant general of the Nevada National Guard, said it is critical the exercise include as many agencies as possible.
“In the Guard, we train like we fight, and since the guard responds to emergencies to support local and state partners, it makes sense to ensure we include as many as possible in the plan,” she said.
Major Vigilant Guard ’08 Exercises
Churchill County – Evacuation of victims from NAS Fallon to Banner Churchill Community Hospital; response to a bomb threat and suspicious package at a prescribed location; conduct Predator flyover of NAS Fallon with downlink of images available for viewing.
Washoe County – Respond to building collapse at Incline Village’s Sierra Nevada College and remove and treat victims and transport to the hospital.
Churchill – NAS Fallon search and rescue exercise.
Storey County – Conduct Wal-Mart Distribution Center hazardous material release and rescue roof-top victims; assist injured victims at Virginia City Fire Station.
Washoe County – Respond to building collapse and remove victims at Washoe County RTC.
Carson City – Conduct mobile hospital tour.
In addition to these scenarios, individual counties have also developed their own situations.