Yesterday was likely one of those days where 10 years from now you will remember where you were when (fill in the blank). I had gone to bed early Thursday night after enduring four days of advanced Incident Commander instruction in the Portland area . I had also shut my work phone off. That was a mistake. As I flipped on the news early yesterday morning, I was greeted by the unbelievable footage of the Pacific Ocean surging over the Japanese landscape, swallowing everything in its path. My initial reaction was “Holy Crap, they are in deep trouble.” Then my thoughts immediately switched to; “Holy Crap, we may be in deep trouble.”
I changed channels to local Portland news, noting the crawler at the bottom of the screen announcing tsunami warnings, evacuation routes and school closure information for the Oregon coast. Newies reported tsunami warnings and preparation efforts all up and down the west coast. Turning my work phone on resulted in a data dump of over 40 USGS and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center messages, along with various other messages from state emergency management. Because my community is nestled on a shallow bay on the Puget Sound, I immediately got hold of my staff, who confirmed they were monitoring tsunami predictions and that we likely would see little to no effects. They assured me a media release was being posted soon on the city’s web, Facebook and Twitter feeds.
I then turned my attention to Twitter, and again went “Holy Crap!” I quickly found a couple of target rich hastags and began catching up on what happened. I also tweeted using my local hashtag that our area likely would see little to no tsunami impact. This information was RT’d by my “locals”, and generated some follow up questions.
After getting tuned up on current events, I packed up and headed out for the last day of class. I mentioned the earthquake to the desk clerk, who looked very concerned. Apparently, she had spent most of the night unsuccessfully trying to get hold of relatives in northern Japan. She was frustrated with the lack of current news information, and the repetitive stories. I showed her my smart phone twitter feed and directed her to Google’s search page that had been set up to help survivors connect. She was extremely grateful to have found another information source and tools that provided useful and real time information. I have a feeling she signed up for Twitter as I was walking out the door.
Class had a surreal feel. Some classmates didn’t show, because they were engaged in tsunami preparation and evacuation efforts. Others were emergency managers from Alaska monitoring tsunami preparation activities. The instructors too were somewhat distracted as they were emergency response professionals from California. But, they forged ahead in finishing up the class as fast as they could.
One of my classmates is a Puget Sound USAR Task Force member. Based on the information gleaned from my various SM sources, I speculated that USAR teams would likely be requested, and that he may get a call. He was skeptical, thinking that Japan are much more prepared than us (which is true) and would be able to handle it (yeah, right). Within an hour, I told him that L.A. County and Fairfax County, Virginia USAR teams had just been mobilized (thanks Brian @LAFDtalk). He wanted to know how the heck I knew this when he hadn’t been notified that any teams were being sent. I had to laugh out loud when he reflexively reached for his phone and bolted for his car to find it!
Frustratingly, I was disconnected from this disaster the rest of the day. Being out of town, engaged in class and having to drive across the state prevented me from following in real time. In other words, I had to get my news the old fashioned way. Man, am I spoiled.