A magnitude 8.2 earthquake in Chile hit Tuesday night while a magnitude 5.1 quake grazed the Los Angeles area last week. These quakes were well timed as Kodiak and the rest of Alaska commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. Fortunately for Chile, its earthquake was in a low-population region of the country’s north and did not cause any fatalities.
But the epicenter of that quake was a circle of earthquake-prone spots around the Pacific Rim.
That bodes trouble for Kodiak.
“Chile is on the Ring of Fire. Alaska is on the Ring of Fire. If you look at the latest earthquakes, you can see how they have been moving. Are we past due for a big earthquake and tsunami, yes we are,” said Don Pate, emergency management coordinator at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.
Seismologists have discounted the possibility of a repeat of the massive magnitude 9.2 earthquake of 1964 that hammered Kodiak and much of southern Alaska, but they are fairly certain Kodiak could suffer from significant damage from another more localized quake.
Emergency responders would rather over-plan than be caught unawares if a huge quake were to strike.
“If Kodiak had a disaster similar to the magnitude of the 1964 earthquake and tsunami, the manpower needed to respond to such an event is enormous. Kodiak would have a surge of people needing medical treatment that, over time, is estimated at 750 injuries,” said Karen Leatherman, spokeswoman for Providence.
“This influx of patients would quickly exceed the hospital’s capabilities to provide care, both from a care provider and infrastructure standpoint. PKIMC would need to move patients to other facilities. This is called a ‘decompress,’ or patient movement forward. For the state of Alaska, this involves local, state and federal agencies to transport those patients to other locations in Alaska or the Lower 48.”
The “decompress” concept was tested at an event called Alaska Shield 2014, an earthquake response simulation. It used personnel and assets from the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services and Emergency Preparedness, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force, the Army National Guard, Kodiak EMS and first responders and Kodiak College nursing students.
According to Leatherman, who took part in the operation, Kodiak EMS, emergency responders and Worldwide Movers helped transport 25 mock patients from Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center to Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak. At the base, Coast Guard personnel then moved the patients onto a C130 for transport to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage, where they were assessed and evaluated. Patients were then reassigned to different aircraft for transport to Veterans Administration hospitals in the Lower 48.
Patients were then loaded on an Air Force C17 for transport. At this point, the volunteer mock patients were swapped out with mannequins, which were transported to Veterans Administration hospitals in Nevada, Washington and Montana. A special system is used to track patients along each step of the process so their location is always known. Kodiak personnel flew back to Kodiak on the C130. The entire process took about 10 hours.
While Alaska Shield can simulate response, it cannot simulate damage. Pate observed at a community talk on Tuesday at St. Innocent’s Academy that most of the island’s runways would get destroyed in a major quake.
“If you don’t have a runway to get patients out, then you can’t get patients out of here,” he said.
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