PHOENIX – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District conducted an earthquake continuity of operations (COOP) exercise where key leaders moved operations from downtown Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona on March 11.
The annual exercise scenario required Crisis Management Team members to respond assuming a large earthquake struck southern California rendering the district headquarters inaccessible.
“We are mandated by Presidential Directive, Public Law and Corps regulations to develop continuity of operations plans so that if something happens to where our primary site for command and control no longer functions, we have the ability to continue the mission,” said District Chief of Emergency Management Branch David Kingston. “What brings our COOP plans to life is when we exercise them based off real world scenarios.”
Over 30 district Crisis Management Team members and leadership participated in the two-day exercise which highlighted emergency communications, Corps flood control projects affected by the earthquake and working with partner agencies during response efforts.
“Emergencies can be very sudden and we want to make sure our leaders already know what to do when the time comes,” said Deputy District Engineer David Van Dorpe. “It’s a very comprehensive exercise. Should a major earthquake happen, not only the Corps of Engineers, but hundreds of local, state and federal agencies will be engaged in the response.”
Planning for the earthquake scenario began after the August 2018 COOP exercise with a goal of refining response efforts, implementing lessons learned and increasing realistic scenarios for participants during the 2019 exercise.
First-time COOP exercise participant District Chief of Planning Division Ed Demesa imagined himself in an earthquake emergency and having to prioritize key responsibilities during the response.
“Your immediate response is to ensure your family is OK,” Demesa said. “Then you move to focus on your job by making sure you can support the district … get it back to a functioning unit able to provide assistance to our counterparts and start assessing vital Corps projects, like our dams.”
The exercise simulated damage to a Corps dam caused by the earthquake and heavy flooding due to heavy rain. Participants were required to work in teams and brief coordination efforts with local and state authorities.
“The public and local communities should also be prepared for any disaster, whether it be an earthquake or flood,” said Van Dorpe. “Know how your local community will disseminate emergency information, know your evacuation routes and ensure your family is prepared.”
In 1994, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley region and was the state’s most destructive since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It was the costliest earthquake in U.S. history according to Britannica.com.
“I think everyone who lives in Southern California knows it’s not a matter of if an earthquake will strike again, but a matter of when,” said Kingston. “So having this scenario as the focal point of the exercise is a driver for our COOP plan and an opportunity to reinforce it.”
Emergency managers from Corps of Engineers Sacramento and Albuquerque Districts also participated in the exercise. Part of the COOP plan is exercising the ability to increase personnel as needed and hand off mission critical operations between districts during disasters.