Sammamish scrambles to join multi-state, multi-jurisdictional earthquake drill after skipping sign-up deadline last year

Sammamish had no plans to participate in a regional earthquake preparedness drill, skipping a sign-up last year.

Note: this is 2,900 words with illustrations.

  • Participants, Sammamish Council Members say Sammamish wasn’t going to be involved in four-day drill.
  • Within hours of inquiries, City officials advised Sammamish Citizens Corp and County emergency coordinator that the City will be involved.
  • Neighboring cities, emergency services, King County and other government agencies to participate.
  • Sammamish skipped last year’s sign-up deadline–but can join now; training for others underway for months.
  • Drill scenario calls for a 9.0 earthquake off Washington coast, 7.2 quake in Sammamish.
  • Drill to test preparedness, inter-agency coordination, response.
  • As goes Sammamish, so goes Klahanie area.

Figure 1. Two earthquake fault zones run deep into Sammamish, one through the far south and another on an east-west line entering the city at about SE 33rd Way (around the 7-11) and extending underneath Pine Lake. The entire western bluff of the city is subject to landslides in an earthquake. Click on image to enlarge.

Sammamish city officials scrambled last week to tell the City Council, a city emergency group and the emergency management coordinator for Eastern King County that the City will join a four-day, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional earthquake disaster drill next June after skipping the sign-up last year—something that, King County, fire departments, the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District and every neighboring city have joined.

According to every source contacted by Sammamish Comment, including two City Council Members, and those from other participants in the drill, Sammamish wasn’t participating. Training is already underway with the participating agencies.

Lyman Howard, deputy city manager, told The Comment Thursday that the City will participate, activating the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in City Hall to test the City’s abilities in the drill. Others began getting notifications Thursday morning as well.

The drill, called Cascade Rising, will be June 7-10. It’s intended to plan and test local response, coordination between agencies and related activities in the event there is a major earthquake.

The scrambling began within hours of Sammamish Comment filing Public Records Requests for emails related to Cascadia Rising, an interview with Council Member Don Gerend and interview requests with Howard and City Manager Ben Yazici. Yazici referred questions to Howard.

Early Thursday morning Howard met with Kent T. Kieran, president of the Sammamish Citizens Corp, in a previously scheduled meeting and advised him that the City will participate in Cascadia Rising. Until Tuesday, the Corp was scratching its head over why the City wasn’t involved.

Mike Ryan, the Emergency Management Coordinator for Eastside King County (and a Sammamish resident) was called by Howard Thursday morning to express the City’s intent to participate.

Sammamish’s decision to skip the drill had left speechless Jan Bromberg, treasurer of the  Sammamish Citizens Corp., a volunteer organization that is dedicated to informing citizens about emergency preparedness and providing damage assessments to the City during an emergency.

“I can’t explain it,” Bromberg told Sammamish Comment Tuesday.

The group, also known as CERT for Community Emergency Response Team, is not empowered to coordinate emergencies. It receives $10,000 a year in funding from Sammamish and matching funds from companies like Microsoft and Boeing, as well as contributions from United Way. CERT has drills scheduled every fifth Saturday. The next one is October 31, Halloween day. CERT is a volunteer branch of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Other Eastside cities, such as Kirkland, also have CERTs.

She’s not alone. Council Member Ramiro Valderrama said he repeatedly asked City Manager Ben Yazici for an explanation, and hasn’t gotten an answer. Nor did bringing the issue up to the City Council produce an answer, he said. Gerend and Council Member Nancy Whitten were also in the dark.

Cascadia Rising

Figure 2. Cascadia Subduction Zone runs along the West Coast from British Columbia to Northern California. The Cascadia Rising earthquake drill scenario assumes a 9.0 earthquake originating in the zone. By the time it reaches Sammamish, the earthquake will be 7.2 magnitude. Sammamish decided to skip participating in the drill. Click on image to enlarge. Image via Google.

The drill takes its name from the Cascadia Subduction Fault, which lies off the US West Coast. It extends from Canada’s British Columbia to Northern California. The scenario for the drill outlines an earthquake of 9.0 that creates a large tsunami, affecting all the coast lines in BC and the three-state area and inland waters.

An earthquake dissipates as the shaking and disruption moves away from the epicenter. Under the Cascadia Rising scenario, by the time the quake hits Sammamish, the magnitude will be about 7.2, resulting in “very strong” shaking, damage and limited destruction to homes and buildings if these have been built since 1972-73, when building codes required earthquake-resistant construction.

Roads could be rendered impassible, power could be cut and the Williams gas line, which runs north-south through the eastern part of Sammamish, could be severed, under such a quake.

The scenario calls for these conditions and further calls for a complete communications black out on the first day, June 7, under which telephones, radios and cell phone services would be disrupted. Ham radios, using independent power sources, would become the principal means of emergency communication, under the scenario—something the Sammamish CERT will provide under the drill and in the event of a real emergency.

Cascadia Rising Shake Zones

Figure 3. Cascadia Rising earthquake scenario assumes a 7.2 earthquake in Sammamish, damaging East Lake Sammamish Parkway and I-90, key arterials for residents and emergency services. Click on image to enlarge.

East Lake Sammamish Parkway, a major arterial and one of the few roads residents (and emergency services) have to get in and out of the City, is specifically identified as subject to damage in the Cascade Rising scenario. I-90 in Issaquah, another key access to the Sammamish plateau, is also assumed to be damaged.

Electrical power for the region could be cut for weeks or months, depending on the location, in the scenario, as could natural gas lines.

The entire southern half of Sammamish will be subject to “very strong” shaking, according to the scenario, the northern half to “strong” shaking.

Ryan, the King County Emergency Management Coordinator, said the scenario assumes road access will be affected and other services cut. He said that generally citizens need to have at least three days of supplies available.

Kieran, the CERT/Citizens Corp president, recommends 7-10 days.

Nisqually earthquake

The most recent significant earthquake in the Puget Sound region was the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, near Olympia. This ranked 6.8 magnitude. It caused serious building damage in Seattle

Figure 4. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake, By the time it hit Sammamish, 68 miles away, the magnitude dissipated from 6.8 at epicenter to around 3.9, or “very light.” Sammamish was still damaged, even at this level. Click on image to enlarge. Image via Google.

and Renton, with some Boeing buildings in the latter being red-tagged by building code inspectors. The quake was felt and seen in Sammamish, 68 miles away.

  • This was the first earthquake experienced by this writer. The land around his house undulated, big cedar trees went back and forth and his Ford Explorer bounced around in the driveway.

East Lake Sammamish Parkway was damaged and required repairs.

The Nisqually quake was what is termed a “deep” earthquake, as will be the Cascadia Rising scenario for the subduction zone. Deep earthquakes lessen the surface impacts.

Seattle Fault

The Seattle Fault presents a far great threat to Sammamish than the Cascadia Subduction Fault. The Seattle Fault runs east-west, entering the City at about SE 33rd Way (the 7-11 on East Lake Sammamish Parkway) and continues underneath Pine Lake. There is another fault that runs south of the Seattle fault, bisecting the southern end of the City (Figure 1). A third fault line also goes through Southern Sammamish and touches Klahanie.

Bromberg, the CERT official, says the Seattle fault is a shallow fault line that would be very damaging to Sammamish should it let go.

“It would be a shallow quake,” Bromberg told Sammamish Comment. “You would feel the after-shocks, and it’s the after-shocks that do the damage. It would be like a brick on Jell-O. It would be devastating.”

Emergency response

“You take out roadways and we are an island,” said Kieran. “You need to be ready for seven to 10 days” with food and water. “You need to have a plan.”

During a major winter wind storm in the early 2000 decade, power was out for some residents for more than a week. Without generators, many residents had a tough time because it was also unusually cold.

It took the City several days to clear debris. Some roads were initially closed due to downed trees and power lines. In an exercise in self-congratulation, the City gave itself a B+ for its response, although some citizens felt otherwise.

Kieran said the Safeway supermarket was “cleared out” of groceries in this and other events.

But as emergencies go, this was tiny compared with what a major emergency would be

Figure 5. Aurora Bridge crash in Seattle between a charter bus and a Ride the Ducks vehicle. Fifty were injured, five killed. Massive first responder response still required mutual aid and private ambulances. Click on image to enlarge. Photo via Google.

like, especially with demands on resources throughout the region.

The recent Aurora Bridge crash between a chartered bus and a Ride the Duck vehicle injured more than 50 and, at this writing, resulted in five fatalities. Seattle emergency response was massive but still required mutual aid from Shoreline and more than a score of ambulances from the private service, AMR.

Sammamish—and the Klahanie area, soon to annex to Sammamish—initially would have nine fire fighters/EMTs available from three fire stations for response in a major disaster. With other cities also demanding its own emergency response, Sammamish/Klahanie residents will be on their own for some time in an emergency.

Kieran said he was informed of Sammamish’s planned participation for the first time Thursday morning.

Inexplicable decision

Sammamish’s initial decision to not be involved in the Cascadia Rising drill perplexed CERT officials and others with participating agencies.

At the Sept. 1 City Council meeting, Valderrama brought the issue up (at 5:24:00 in the meeting on the archived video tape).

“I attended a CERTS meeting…what was interesting is [that] the City of Sammamish is not participating in those [earthquake] exercises, nor in the regional exercise that’s about to take place, Cascadia Rising,” Valderrama said. “Issaquah, Redmond and the water districts are. They’re asking, as they should, that the city start to participate in at least the quarterly exercises that they are doing. Klahanie participated…”

Yazici broke in with a comment, which was largely inaudible, but in which he could be heard, “let me talk to Lyman.”

“Talk to them, but nobody [from the City] was there,” Yazici said. “EFR was there, the water district was there, the City was missing. If we could find out why.”

Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay quizzed Valerrama about when the Cascadia Rising drill was to take place. Yazici asked if the drill was “the water disaster issue they are talking about?”

Valderrama responded that this was a major earthquake disaster drill.

“That’s the water districts, [they] are the appropriate agencies to participate,” Yazici replied.

One explanation, offered by two officials not connected with the City government, pointed to “other” and “higher” priorities, specifically identified the plans to conclude annexation of the Klahanie area, maintaining a tight budget, staff shortages and running the City.

Former deputy city manager (DCM) Pete Butkus was the point man for emergency services in Sammamish, but he retired several years ago. Howard, who is currently a DCM and who has been named to succeed City Manager Yazici when he retires in February, isn’t yet free to set his own priorities and has been focused on executing the priorities set out by Yazici, two sources say.

These sources say Howard is interested in emergency services. Howard told The Comment that hiring a city emergency management coordinator is “a conversation I want to have with the Council” after he assumes the city manager’s position the end of next February.

By then it will be a short three months to the Cascadia Rising drill.

Ryan, the King County emergency coordinator, said Sammamish could have come in at that time, but doing so would be very tight. Getting notified Thursday morning by Howard that the City will participate was welcome news; although training has already begun, Sammamish’s decision to participate sooner than next March will allow training for City staff to begin sooner, he said.

Howard said Sammamish will also participate in a smaller drill called Shake Out on October 15 and the CERT exercise October 31.

Kieran also welcomed the news he received last Thursday.

“I’m excited [the City] has decided to participate,” he told The Comment. “This is the first word we’ve gotten.”

The City’s emergency plan, required by State law, is said to be out-of-date. Howard said updating is underway.

Practicing for disaster is a routine duty of government. Airport first responders practice for airplane crashes. Ever since 9/11, governments upped their drills to respond in case of a terrorist attack. School shootings unfortunately are not uncommon any more. There was a threat of a school shooting at Skyline High School several years ago—and the Sammamish Mayor at the time, Tom Odell, wasn’t promptly notified by the City Administration of the threat, but learned of it hours after the threat was deemed to be a false alarm.

CERT, the volunteer emergency action team, has no authority to take charge in an emergency and, Bromberg said, their volunteers can’t even get the sign-off by City Hall to obtain credentials to make them official in an emergency.

Valderrama said that for a drill last year, he had to sign CERT’s credentials because the City Administration wouldn’t. Howard told The Comment that validating credentials this year is “in process.”

The City Administration and some, but not all, City Council members are well aware of Cascadia Rising. Emails produced under a Public Records Request show a steady stream of emails announcing meetings and presentations for the drill. Training commenced last year.

But not with Sammamish’s participation, at least until the intent was expressed Thursday.

Council Member Gerend was in the dark Wednesday.

” [City Manager] Ben [Yazici] was saying the fire district is participating. I don’t know if the sheriff’s department is participating. I don’t know why we’re not. I can’t give you an answer for that.”

But, Gerend added, “One of the [participating] fire chiefs is our fire chief, and he goes to the meetings, so it’s not like we are out of the loop.”

Yet, in fact not only was the Council out of the loop, so was CERT and the emergency management coordinator, as well as other adjacent jurisdictions. A Public Records Request by Sammamish Comment for all emails to/from the City Council regarding Cascadia Rising failed to produce a single one from City Staff to the Council, emails among and between the Council, emails from the Council to the staff, or emails from the fire chief or police chief to the staff or Council about the drill. Only emails from Cascadia Rising to the City notifying them about meetings and presentations were produced.

Apparently reflecting the lack of information from Staff to Council, Council Member Whitten responded to the PRR for Cascade Rising with, “What’s this?”

Regardless of the involvement of EF&R and the King County Sheriff (which supply fire and police service to Sammamish), any emergency of magnitude will require involvement and leadership of the City Administration and City Council–and the Council seems remarkably in the dark.

The City does not have an emergency management coordinator, despite federal funding being available. Howard said the effort required to obtain federal funds is onerous and even Ryan, the County’s Eastside Emergency Management Coordinator, said that for the money involved, applying and managing federal grants, “it’s not worth the effort.”

With annexation of the Klahanie area, Sammamish will become the third largest city on Seattle’s East side, after Bellevue and Kirkland.

CERT events

See here for information about CERT information and exercises in October.

Message to Council Members

The following email was sent by Howard to Council members shortly after this interview with Sammamish Comment.

Hello Councilmembers,

We’ve received a couple of inquiries about the city’s planned involvement in Cascade Rising, an Emergency Management Exercise scheduled for June 2016 that will focus on a “major earthquake” scenario. The exercise will involve volunteers, multiple jurisdictions and many levels of government.

As we have in the past, we will stand up the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) here at city hall and test our abilities to coordinate with our partners in emergency management, including Police, Fire, King County, Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer and Sammamish Citizen Corps. These kinds of exercises have been a regular part of our staff routine for many years now.

Of more immediate interest, the city is planning on a mini-exercise called “Shake Out” on October 15th at 10:15 AM. We are planning to simulate an earthquake in coordination with the region, making sure staff does the drop and cover routine, an orderly evacuation of the building and an EOC set-up.

If you have any questions, or would like more regular updates on these kinds of staff exercises, please let me know.



11 thoughts on “Sammamish scrambles to join multi-state, multi-jurisdictional earthquake drill after skipping sign-up deadline last year

  1. Thanks for reminding me of the windstorm aftermath from the 2006 Hanukkah Eve storm. We were without electricity for so long that at some point we had to gas up our generators and cars. There was such chaos at the gas stations that, at least at the Klahanie gas station, they had to call the police because people were getting into physical altercations after cutting in line. The lineup of cars stretched onto SE Issaquah-Fall City Road. Due to the power outage, the gas pumps ran slow as they were running on backup power. It took hours to fill up our gas tanks, and then they began running out of fuel since the tankers couldn’t get up the hill to refresh supplies.

  2. Thank you Sammamish Comment !! last spring I tried to engage Mr. Yazici in a conversation regarding the cities Emergency Plan. I was told “we are working with the school district'” I then tried to engage Mr Howard and was told ” we are already working with the water district”. As a member of the King County Emergency Management group , for over a year already, It became clear to me that there was not only a lack of interest but a complete lack of knowledge of what I was talking about. The Cascade drill is a regional event that requires everyone’s involvement for success. Thank you to the Sammamish Comment for doing what I clearly could not

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  4. Thank you Sammamish Comment for focusing attention on this issue.
    Coincidentally, I just finished reading Full Rip 9.0 by Sandy Doughton, who is a science writer for the Times. It is a very eye opening and informative book about the history of quakes here and what could happen to this region in the event of another quake on the Cascadia Fault or the Seattle Fault. We need to be prepared as individuals, communities and as a region. I’m glad to hear that Sammamish is joining in that preparation.

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