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How to communicate in a 9.0

Exercise enforces the importance of teamwork

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"We have close to 20,000 people that are participating," said Digital Media Coordinator for the Washington Military Department and Deputy Chief for the External Affairs Pod for the Cascadia Rising Exercise, Steven Friederich.

Essentially, the purpose of last week's Cascadia Rising Exercise was to practice response efforts if a massive, 9.0-earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest.

"Here in the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC), we have hundreds of people that are coming from FEMA, local jurisdictions and dozens of various state agencies that are figuring out how we would react to a massive earthquake and following tsunami," Friederich said.

For this specific exercise, a Simulation Deck social media platform that responds with "real-time" social media posts for various issues that can occur after a devastating disaster was used to simulate external affairs responses from the public and various organizations.

Friederich and his team responded to affected individuals looking for shelters, clean water, safety from roaming animals and much more, and the individuals on the simulated social media platform even had an opportunity to respond back, sometimes even with dire and upset responses.

"When we see that somebody has posted that a middle school has fallen, we have the opportunity to follow up, prepare the proper planning steps and to elevate the response to the proper people in planning and operations to potentially take some actionable intelligence to assist in the most efficient and effective way," Friederich said.

One of the primary objectives was to use social media as much as possible to get situational awareness and to help spread public messaging.

"In addition to the external affairs team, there were writers, media liaisons, and additional teams ... dealing with real-life media that were covering this massive exercise for their respected institutions," he said.

Real-life external affairs and simulated external affairs took place at the same time for this exercise.

"The collaborative efforts remain a mandatory and invaluable proponent for a disaster such as this, with partners looking to one another to provide the most effective and efficient responses in a great time of need," Friederich said.

For instance, when trying to figure out the best practices for safe food and water, the Emergency Management Division might reach out to the Department of Health or give King County Health a call to garner advice, then tie that in with FEMA response tips and relate that to the many people working with search and rescue, transportation, resource requests, fuel task forces, public safety and others.

Looking into the future and potential results from this exercise had Friederich enforcing the importance of teamwork once more.

"We're hoping that teamwork prevails and we can work with our partners in a cohesive manner," he said, "and as the lessons-learned start to come up from this exercise, we can adapt and shape our future efforts into a more effective way."

The results from the exercise can help to better shape the state's emergency policies and plans.

"Is there a policy that needs to be changed? Is there actionable intelligence not being acted upon? Is there a procedure that needs to be crafted or changed?"

Those who weren't actually involved with this physical exercise can reap a multitude of benefits by becoming better prepared at home, school and work.

"On the Military Department's website, there are a plethora of emergency response tips, tools on how to create an emergency kit and even tips on preparing for a disaster over the next year," Friederich said.

Being prepared means being prepared for all disasters, not just earthquakes.

"(The disaster) might not be an earthquake," he said.  "It might be a storm, a flood, a wildfire or some big wind event."

Thinking and preparing for, at least, the first three days could very well be a life-saving practice.

"We want people to really think about at least 72-hour kits."

Store food and water and truly understand your location," he said.  "If you live in a more rural area, you should really have even more food and water ready, since it would take longer for emergency response to reach you."

Using external affairs to spread a message even wider was just one of the many lessons learned from the Cascadia Rising Exercise.

"This has been a learning experience for us to really figure out our best practices," Friederich said. "For our agency, embracing social media has been a bit new, but we have received a lot of support from managers and line staff, who truly understand the importance of how we can use social media to figure out how the public is reacting and get them the help that they need."

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