Only 19 of the 39 Coast Guard units based in the Pacific Northwest have developed tsunami evacuation plans, despite the region being prone to such hazards, according to a recent government monitoring report. And without a standard in place, even units with written protocols showed significant inconsistencies in what the evacuation of Coast Guard personnel and families would entail.
The report, released Sept. 7 by the Government Accountability Office, addresses those planning shortcomings while pushing the Coast Guard to better protect its personnel from maritime emergencies.
Beginning in May 2021, the GAO visited 10 Coast Guard units in District 13 — which spans the Oregon and Washington coasts — eight of which had written tsunami evacuation plans.
According to the report, a major earthquake in the region could cause tsunami waves of up to 80 feet and crash into the coast as quickly as 10 to 30 minutes later, significantly affecting the approximately 3,000 soldiers and employees. service stationed in the area.
A major fault line off the coasts of the Pacific Northwest states – the Cascadia subduction zone – has caused even greater concern from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which believes it there’s a nearly 40% chance that an earthquake of magnitude seven or greater will occur there within the next 50 years.
“According to FEMA planning documents, subduction zones produce some of the largest earthquakes in the world,” the report said.
The threat of such devastation is reminiscent of the destruction brought to Haiti in 2021. Earthquakes of a similar magnitude also struck near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska in 2018 and Naval Air Station China Lake in 2019. .
The GAO concluded its report by recommending that Coast Guard leaders ensure that coastal units in the Pacific Northwest develop location-specific evacuation plans, provide guidance to those units on protocols and implement the above plans.
The Department of Homeland Security agreed with the recommendations.
“The Coast Guard is committed to continuous improvements to enhance the safety and protection of all personnel and dependents in the event of a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States,” said Jim Crumpacker of Homeland Security in a letter to the GAO in August.
Crumpacker’s letter, however, noted that the Coast Guard does not plan to provide guidance or direct its District 13 units to develop written plans until at least 2025. In turn, training based on those plans would be unlikely before 2026.
The Coast Guard’s 13th District Public Affairs team could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jonathan is the editor and publisher of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media