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Shaken but not stirred at Naval Hospital Bremerton

19 October 2023

From Douglas Stutz

The 2023 Great Washington Shakeout drill at precisely 10:19 a.m. on 10/19 shook an active shaken but not stirred response from Naval Hospital Bremerton staff to drop, cover and hold.Such a recommendation during any sizable seismic trembler has shuddering significance at NHB.The Nisqually, Washiongton quake Feb. 28, 2001, at 10:54 a.m., registered
The 2023 Great Washington Shakeout drill at precisely 10:19 a.m. on 10/19 shook an active shaken but not stirred response from Naval Hospital Bremerton staff to drop, cover and hold.

Such a recommendation during any sizable seismic trembler has shuddering significance at NHB.

The Nisqually, Washiongton quake Feb. 28, 2001, at 10:54 a.m., registered 6.8 on the Richter Scale and was felt throughout the greater Puget Sound region. That earthquake jolted staff members with a quavering experience from the epicenter approximately 50 miles south of Bremerton.

“Taking part in a drill like this allows us to participate in exactly what we need to do in case of actually experiencing another earthquake,” said Terry Lerma, NHB emergency preparedness manger. “We want staff to know how to protect themselves and our patients here for an appointment during such a scenario. We want everyone to consider their immediate surroundings and see if there are items which need to be secured so they don’t become objects which could injury anyone.”

Staff members here in 2001 vividly remember the entire building seemingly shaking forever [estimates vary between 19 and 45 seconds]. Books, plants, coffee cups and other office gear were tossed like so much tickertape. Elevators suddenly halted between floors. Patients were alarmed, staff members uncertain, friends and family concerned.

Dr. Dan Frederick, then officer in charge of Branch Health Clinic, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, was attending a training class on the sixth floor when the quake hit.

“I remember it very well. Everything started to shake. I was able to see outside and could notice how much the building was moving in relation to the trees. And the movement kept going. It was scary the amount of movement taking place. I was thinking that this structure can’t take much more because the force will cause it to break apart. Being on one of the top floors and feeling and seeing the motion was quite the ride,” said Frederick.

History has shown that the entire area is prone to quakes, with notable seismic events such as a magnitude 6.5 quake widely felt April 29, 1965, and a measured 7.1 quake April 13, 1949. There was even 4.3 trembler 10 days earlier approximately 30 miles north from NHB.

Because of the 2001 Nisqually quake and where NHB is located, a unique seismic retrofit project was completed in 2007 to improve the structural ability of the facility to withstand a large earthquake.

NHB was the first Navy Medicine facility to undergo this type of seismic retrofit project because seismologists insist that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ as much as ‘when’ the next big quake hammers the region. The seismic retrofit - shock absorbing inertia dampeners – is designed to prevent the upper floors from transitioning from the initial shaking to the rolling circular motion experienced in 2001.

“We were also the first naval hospital to be wired with sensors throughout the building and have our own seismograph that will tell us immediately after a quake if the hospital building is safe to stay in, or if we should evacuate,” said Lerma.

Lerma attests whether it’s ‘if’ or ‘when’ such a sizable quake happens again, NHB’s role in handling such an emergency situation becomes a vital for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

“Our duties are three fold. One is to provide health service support to the fleet and active duty forces, and they will be the primary focus for medical support. Second, routine medical appointments will most likely be deferred for rescheduling until the extent of any damage is known at NHB, or the community begins to return to a degree or normalcy in the recovery phase. We would focus on accounting for all our staff and family members and focus on performing the level of service our infrastructure, provided it hasn’t been compromised, will allow us to do. Our third duty is our role as healthcare provider in our local community,” said Lerma.

If the next big one hits right now, then what?

The immediate action for staff after drop, cover, hold, would be “not to run outside,” Lerma stressed. “Wait until the shaking stops and/or the announcement for “all clear.””

“We would then have to immediately check all work spaces for any damage and make any structural damage and/or injury to staff/visitor/patients reports,” continued Lerma, also citing that the command would then have to secure any leaking water, gas, air, suction, or oxygen lines, and not use any elevators until NHB’s Facilities Management department ensures they are safe and operational.

“We would also have to check the outside grounds for any buckled pavement, cracks, leaking water mains, or any smell of natural gas and notify Security. We would report any fires, and be prepared for possible aftershocks,” remarked Lerma.

Part of NHB’s overall command readiness and emergency response plan is to effectively and rapidly handle the natural disaster, provide medical care and prepare for mass casualties.

“Our staff should always be aware of such a possibility. We have at least two major and three minor earthquake faults running through and/or near Kitsap County. Geographically, the Kitsap Peninsula is essentially an island if the Tacoma Narrows and Hood Canal Bridges were closed. Many geologists say we are overdue for ‘the big one,’ so the possibility of a significant seismic event is possible at any time,” Lerma said.

In conjunction with the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management, NHB recommends the following in response for a major earthquake:
• Know the safe spot in each room: under sturdy tables, desks, or against inside walls.
• Be aware of danger spots such as windows, mirrors, hanging objects, fireplaces and tall furniture.
• Conduct practice drills. Physically place yourself and family in safe locations.
• Learn first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
• Create a Family Earthquake Plan and decide where your family will reunite, if separated.
• Keep a list of emergency phone numbers.
• Choose an out-of-state friend or relative who family members can call after the quake to report your condition. Carry emergency contact cards with out-of-state contact phone numbers.
• Develop a portable/auto survival kit for work and travel

Earthquake Descriptors
There are micro earthquakes (approx. 8,000) every day that are not felt and measure less than 2.0 on the Richter Scale.
Earthquakes measuring between 2.0 and 2.9 are considered very minor and are generally not felt (by humans). There’s nearly 1,000 a day.

Minor quakes in the 3.0-3.9 range are often felt but rarely cause damage. It’s estimated there are about 49,000 per year.

Light quakes of 4.0 to 4.9 can cause noticeable rattling and shaking of indoor items. Significant damage is unlikely. There are an estimated 6,200 per year.

Moderate quakes of 5.0-5.9 range can cause major damage to poorly constructed buildings over small regions and even slight damage to well-designed buildings. Example: The 1987 Whittier Narrows quake in southern San Gabriel Valley, Calif. caused $358 million in damage. There are an estimated 800 per year.

A strong quake in the 6.0 to 6.9 range can be destructive in areas up to about 100 miles across in populated areas. Example: The 1994 Northridge, Calif. earthquake, registered 6.7, considered a moderate quake, but the ground acceleration (earth shaking) was the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America. There are about 120 per year.

Major quakes measure 70 to 7.9 and can cause serious damage over larger areas. Example: The 2010 Haiti earthquake with a magnitude 7.0, caused an estimated 316,000 human fatalities, with more than 300,000 injured and one million made homeless. There are approx. 18 per year.

A great earthquake in the 8.0 to 8.9 range can cause serious damage in areas several hundred miles across. On Sept. 29, 2009, U.S. Geologic Survey reported an 8.1 earthquake off Samoa. The resulting tsunami flattened villages in Samoa and American Samoa, killed 189 and displaced over 10,000 people. The frequency of occurrence is one per year.

A rare great earthquake of 9.0 or greater can (and does) cause devastation in areas several thousand miles across. Example: December 2004: The Indian Ocean quake, which registering a magnitude of 9.1-9.3. The epicenter was off the NE coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, caused a series of gigantic tsunamis, resulted in more than 229,000 fatalities and impacted many nations along the Indian Ocean.

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