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Fake Quake: Portland Water Bureau Prepares for Seismic Event

On Wednesday, October 23rd, the Portland Water Bureau conducted an emergency full scale exercise called the Fall Thump. The primary objective of the exercise was to test and evaluate the bureau’s Damage Assessment Teams (DAT) ability to respond following a moderate earthquake.  The drill tested the bureau’s damage assessment plans and procedures and familiarized emergency response personnel with their damage assessment roles, responsibilities and equipment.

Jamaal Folsom, serving as the exercise director, worked closely with an exercise design and planning team comprised of subject matter experts from both the Water Bureau and Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM).  The exercise plan used guidance set forth in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). 


Steve Schenk, Incident Commander for the Exercise (standing in center), was responsible for the overall management of the Water Bureau’s response.

The full-day exercise involved over 60 staff from across the Water Bureau, including a fully staffed Incident Management Team (IMT), Simulation Cell, controllers and evaluators, six two-person DAT teams and 12 operating engineers (OE).


DAT Teams gathered together and then deployed to identify potential issues and work to craft solutions at damage sites following the simulated earthquake.

While much of the exercise play engaged the IMT working in the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) located then in SW Portland, the bulk of the action occurred in the field. Six DAT teams were dispatched to work in conjunction with the Lead OE’s in their respective districts to conduct rapid visual and detailed assessments of damaged water infrastructure.  Most of the teams were able to collect the information in the field with laptops and paper forms, and then electronically report that data back to the EOC from the field via WebEOC for further analysis. 

“By activating our EOC and deploying our DAT teams, we attempted to simulate a realistic scenario that fostered communication and problem solving between DAT teams and District OE’s, identification of alternate transportation routes and the use of multiple communication tools including 800 MHz radios and satellite phones,” says Jamaal Folsom. “Conducting exercises such as this is necessary in order to test and evaluate our plans, equipment and capabilities in a stress free environment so that we’re better prepared to respond when the real deal occurs.”  

The interactive exercise achieved realism through on-scene actions and decisions, communication devices and equipment deployment.  All decisions and actions by Water Bureau staff occurred in real time and generated real responses and implications for other staff.

“We’re pleased with the outcome of the exercise as we obtained a good deal of useful information that we’ll fold into our after-action and improvement planning,” says Folsom. 

The Water Bureau thanks all participants and the PBEM staff for their assistance in planning the Fall Thump 2013 and taking part in the exercise conduct and evaluation.

Lindsay Wochnick
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