Arcata Fire District executes tsunami response drill

The Arcata Fire District participated in a tsunami response drill Monday afternoon.

Living on the Humboldt coast means tsunamis and flooding can be a potential threat. That's why emergency agencies like Arcata Fire District need to be ready to respond at the drop of a hat, no matter the circumstances.

"We don't always have a whole crew on duty that can respond all at once," Arcata Fire Captain Jon Busher said. "With Arcata, we have three stations and two firefighters at each station, and so that's what we're going to be working with."

The response plan that the station simulated in real time has been two years in the making.

"The goal is just to see with our limited resources and three engines covering several square miles, if we can get it all done," Busher said. "Then we'll see what we need to reconsider or what we need to change in the plan."

The response teams left in pairs and were each given a designated area to cover. The drill is more complex than it sounds because the large fire engines inevitably have to maneuver through small areas and narrow roads to reach every nook and cranny of their coverage areas, while keeping an ear open for other fire or rescue situations, unrelated to the potential tsunami threat, to which they may have to respond.

"The concept is the crews drive up to these neighborhoods that are at risk of flooding," Busher said. "On the public address system, the firefighters will read a pre-typed message warning the residents, and the goal is to reach as many people as possible."

The message the firefighters repeat throughout their coverage area alerts people they're in an area that will be susceptible to dangerous flooding in two hours, and should evacuate to higher ground immediately.

"We'll generally know when the water will arrive. They've gotten that pretty well mapped out," Busher said. "Within about 30 minutes of the water's arrival, we're going to pull out and go to higher ground, so that's our window. Once we know about it, the clock starts, and we need to get out there and try and warn people."

Each engine covers its route and reports back to someone at the station that records their time. It's this data that will be reviewed after the drill's completion, and then either the plan or the routes will be adjusted accordingly.

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