Evacuation 'a trial run' for any future catastrophe

Evacuation 'a trial run' for any future catastrophe »Play Video

FLORENCE, Ore. -- As waves hurtled across the Pacific Ocean toward the Oregon coast, an evacuation system in Florence was put to the test.

Tsunamis are something Florence residents prepare for.

On the last Friday of every month, the city of Florence tests its tsunami warning sirens.  But early Friday morning, the alarm wasn’t just a drill.

“We just kind of get used to it,” said Toni Evans. “But when it goes on and on, you know that something’s happening.”

Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., emergency crews called the phones and knocked on the doors of hundreds of homes that the tsunami could affect.

Two hours after the tsunami warning, all residents were uninjured and accounted for at evacuation sites.

The Florence Event Center is one of seven ‘safe zones’ that are designated as evacuation meeting locations.

Residents said they had pamphlets and maps that gave them specific instructions in the case of a tsunami warning.

Florence Mayor Phil Brubaker said he first became aware of the potential threat late Thursday night and received an official tsunami warning shortly after midnight.

“We are obligated to trigger our process of evacuation when we get a warning notice even though it could be hours and hours before the tsunami hits,” said Brubaker. “We were lucky we had so much time to work with.”

Overall, the evacuation is being considered a success – everyone is safe.

Brukaber said the city was prepared to handle the evacuation, but said there are still some things to improve upon.

Florence Events Center volunteer Nancy Fullmer said the reverse 9-11 system is one example.

“The phone system automatically dials 4,000 people per minute,” said Fullmer. “but it only does that for land phones. So, if you don’t have a land phone and you only have a cell phone you don’t get a call.”

Fullmer said many people didn’t hear the sirens and only answered to the phone call or knocks at their door.

Brubaker said the county is in charge of the phone system and that an expanded system would be helpful.

“Lane County is working on that, on cell phones,” said Brubaker. “That will be a big help.”

Many emergency crew workers said the threat was real, but that Friday’s evacuation was a trial run for disasters that could be catastrophic.

Siuslaw Fire and Rescue Representative Jaque Betz said tsunamis spurred by distant earthquakes give crews plenty of time to evacuate residents, but said if a quake were to happen along the Cascadia Fault, about 100 miles off the Oregon coast, residents could have only about 15 minutes to evacuate.

“If the earth shakes, you just have to get to higher ground because there won’t be any sirens. There won’t be any people knocking on your door. There won’t be time to do that.”

Emergency crews said they will hold a debriefing to identify any flaws in the evacuation system.

That is expected to happen late Friday or Saturday.