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Washington National Guard members and personnel from the National Guard Bureau take part in a training exercise planning session at the Herbert R. Temple Readiness Center, Arlington Hall Station in Arlington, Va. The planning session was primarily focused on preparations for the Washington Cascadia Subduction Zone training exercise, which centers around response efforts in the aftermath of a large-scale earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. With more than six-million residents living in areas of Washington state that may be hit hard in such a scenario, Washington National Guard leadership are gearing up for the exercise with advanced planning and working with state emergency managers to streamline interoperability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Matthew Murphy)

What do you do when 80 percent of your state’s population lives near the epicenter of a possible 9.0 earthquake? For members of the Washington National Guard, it means being ready to assist roughly 6 million people who live in such an area.

“We definitely need to plan and be prepared for what will come,” said Army Col. Kevin McMahan, director of operations, training and exercises with the Washington National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters. “Not if, but when the ‘big one’ hits, it will affect populations from British Columbia (Canada) to Northern California.”

McMahan said many scientists predict such a catastrophic earthquake would trigger a tsunami with waves from 20 to 80 feet.

To prepare for such a scenario, Washington National Guard leaders and more than 40 National Guard Bureau subject matter experts recently met to help plan a disaster response training exercise.

“We never lose sight of the fact that the mission happens in the field, and for that reason we commend Washington (National Guard leaders) for their willingness to commit time and resources to come to D.C. and work with the NGB joint staff and the Air and Army readiness centers,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Britt Hatley, vice director of plans at the NGB. “They came with many challenging questions and we appreciate the opportunity to provide any and all planning assistance moving forward.”

Scheduled for 2022, the Washington Cascadia Subduction Zone training exercise will focus on immediate response efforts and how Washington Guard members would integrate with local first responders. For Washington Guard leadership, the planning session goes beyond simply being ready for a training exercise.

“It’s not just about the exercise for us,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty, the adjutant general of the Washington National Guard. “We really want to be prepared for the day (an) actual earthquake hits. The better prepared and the more assistance we can get from Guard Bureau will only make us stronger, and it is really beneficial for the citizens of our state.”

In addition to teaming with NGB resources, Washington Guard leaders have been working with Washington state emergency managers to streamline communication and interoperability. Washington Guard leaders and emergency managers also worked together to prepare a resource guide for local residents to be “disaster ready.”

The goal is to be as ready as possible, said McMahan, adding that planning and building relationships makes response efforts run more smoothly.

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