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Largest earthquake drill in Pacific Northwest history kicks off

A UH-60 delivers supplies for guardsmen in Shelton for the "Cascadia Rising" drill. (Washington National Guard)

Don’t be surprised to see plenty of military vehicles over the next few days.

What is being described as the largest drill ever for a mega-quake in the Pacific Northwest kicked off Tuesday morning.

Federal officials say about 20,000 people will be involved in the disaster drill, representing various federal agencies, the U.S. military, state and local emergency response managers across the Pacific Northwest, Native American tribes and emergency management officials in British Columbia. The drill will last through June 11.

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The goal of what was dubbed “Cascadia Rising” is for emergency management to establish best practices when it comes to a major disaster. FEMA Regional Administrator Kenneth Murphy says the key will be reaching people, even if the majority of infrastructure is unusable. That’s where the Navy comes in.

If a major earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest — putting common infrastructure out of commission — Murphy says the area will become reliant on the waterways. Supplies and vehicles will be delivered via ships and floating bridges.

Essentially, the ships “build a pier over the ocean and offload supplies and trucks to land,” Murphy said. “We’re doing some testing of this system during this exercise.”

In addition to the support from the water, emergency management expects helicopters to play a key role as well. KIRO Radio’s Jillian Raftery says people can expect to see Black Hawk helicopters over the next several days of the drill.

Of course, every operation needs a base. That’s where Vashon Island comes in. Vashon might seem random, but experts have mapped out the areas that will be least damaged during a major earthquake and tsunami. Raftery reports Vashon could be the ideal place because of its location.

As for the thousands who could be displaced by a major earthquake and tsunami, Murphy says Idaho could become a sanctuary.

“We are working with [Idaho officials] to make sure they are prepared for the potential large numbers of people that could be moved to Idaho for medical care; could be moved to Idaho to live for a while,” Murphy explained.

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