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Seattle Hosts Disaster Preparedness Drills Saturday At Emergency Communications Hubs

Elaine Thompson
In this file photo from Oct. 2016, a student covers his head under a table at Lowell Elementary School in Seattle during a statewide earthquake drill. Now, communities are going beyond drop and cover by learning how to prioritize emergency communications.

A major earthquake-preparedness drill takes place this Saturday in Seattle. It’s called “Hubs and Spokes” and this time, the emphasis is on emergency communications.

Seattle now has about 135 designated areas or “hubs” where people can go for help if there is an emergency like a major earthquake.

The hubs are located at natural gathering places chosen by the neighborhoods, including parks, libraries and community P-Patch gardens.

Eleven of those hubs have been designated Emergency Communications Hubs. These can be viewed as the "spokes" referred to in the drill's title.

After disaster strikes, the spokes are charged with sending crucial messages to the city’s centralized emergency managers.

One of the scariest aspects of handling catastrophes is the likelihood that usual methods of communication won’t be available. Not only is it challenging to set up new connections via ham radios or satellite phones, but it's also difficult to prioritize messaging.

Emergency Communications Hubs Volunteer Coordinator Cindy Barker said prioritization is part of the test.

"Somebody comes up and they say, here is something that happened. There is a fire, the gas station exploded, the wind is whipping it up and it’s spreading to the west,” she said.

Barker, a retired Boeing manager who volunteers for this leadership position, says that scenario would meet the criteria for being radioed to the city from a neighborhood communications hub. And it should also trigger local action.

“Not necessarily go fight the fire, but go evacuate people who don’t have power, aren’t listening to the radio, don’t have internet, don’t know they’re in the path of a potential fire,” Barker said.

Credit Courtesy of City of Seattle
Courtesy of City of Seattle
The City of Seattle has created an interactive map to help people find emergency community hubs near them.

Saturday morning’s drills will take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the 11 locations throughout Seattle that are the designated Emergency Communications Hubs.  Anyone is welcome to take part in role-playing exercises or volunteer for other duties.

To keep the drills spontaneous and interesting, facilitators will pull scenarios from a  range of possibilities to test various skills. But Saturday’s exercises are intended to simulate day 6 in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

Community Planning Coordinator Debbie Goetz says it’s a chance to prepare by getting to know your neighbors.

“Getting to plan together, to train together – those are all available opportunities for any community members,” Goetz said.

Such exercises can also encourage people who have been procrastinating on putting together their emergency supply kits. Most local authorities now advise residents to have enough food, water and medications stowed to last for at least 7-10 days. 

During Saturday’s drills, the city will also be testing new universal communication cards that are designed for people who don’t speak English or cannot hear. Information displayed aims to convey messages about specific needs along with how and where to get help.

Seattle has just released a new interactive map with all of the emergency hubs, so you can enter an address and find the one nearest your home or workplace.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to