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Why Idaho Is Practicing What It Would Do If A Tsunami Hits Oregon And Washington

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio
The Idaho Emergency Operations Center before a drill begins. Vests with lables like, logistics, plans and operations wait on each chair.

State emergency management agencies in Idaho, Oregon and Washington along with their federal counterparts at FEMA, are conducting a drill through the end of the week to prepare for a catastrophic disaster. The potential disaster the three states are role playing is a 9.0 earthquake on what’s called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That would create huge tsunamis that would devastate the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

Geologists say that scenario is a very real possibility. While Idaho probably wouldn’t feel the earthquake and definitely wouldn’t be hit by the tsunamis, Elizabeth Duncan with the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, the state’s emergency management agency, says the state would have a big support role in that disaster.

“We’re testing to see whether or not we can adequately accommodate tens of thousands of evacuees and displaced persons who could be coming to Idaho,” Duncan says.

Those who would be involved with coordinating a relief effort will be at the Idaho Emergency Operations Center this week. The operations center is an underground facility at Gowen Field that looks a little like mission control at NASA crossed with a customer service call center. Duncan says IBHS practices for emergencies like fires and floods all year but also has to be ready for big disasters.

“In emergency management we have to plan, and prepare and test against our plans,” Duncan says. “When we do these exercises we say, ‘are we ready for this? Did we test this? Can we reevaluate our plan and do something differently?’”

Thousands of people in the three states will participate in the four-day exercise. Even Idaho’s governor will role play. Butch Otter will be at Gowen Field Thursday to practice declaring a state of emergency. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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