Federal, state and local emergency managers praised the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe this week for its perseverance, hard work and commitment that resulted in a $2.2 million federal grant to construct a vertical tsunami evacuation tower near Tokeland.
A celebration was held in the tribe’s gym July 18.“I’ve never seen a more progressive, forward-thinking community than I’ve seen here,” said FEMA Region 10 director Mike O’Hare. “You recognized a need and answered the call, putting in the work along with the community.”
O’Hare said it was the innovative leadership of the tribe’s emergency management director Lee Shipman and her entire crew as a big part of the reason the grant was awarded to the tribe from FEMA’s ultra-competitive pre-disaster mitigation fund.
The Tokeland tower will be only the second structure of its type built in the nation; the first was built just a few years ago at the Ocosta school south of Westport. The Tokeland tower will be built to withstand a Cascadia Subduction Zone event, which is a magnitude-9 earthquake or above that could send a tsunami tens of feet high into coastal areas that could linger for more than a day before receding, destroying infrastructure like roads, bridges and emergency services along its path. The tower would hold about 348 people.
State Adjutant General Major General Bret Daugherty, referred to as “TAG” for The Adjutant General by Shipman, said the community will be safer thanks to the tribe’s efforts to build only the second tsunami evacuation platform in the state.
“Some day the ground is going to shake below our feet,” he said, noting that state emergency managers have been pushing the federal government for some time to provide funding for tsunami evacuation structures along the coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Puget Sound.
“Now we just need to build about 38 more of them,” said Daugherty.
He said the full power of the military would be provided in the event of a tsunami event, but individual and family preparedness is the real key to survival.
“When this happens, helicopters will be in the air, coming to the coast first, through the Navy and all military branches coming to help you,” he said. “But individual and family preparedness is what will help you survive the day. We’re all in this together, and together we will get through it.”
Robert Ezelle, Washington Military Department emergency management division director, said, “This is spot-on what we need to be doing across the state. About 10 years ago we were devising ways how to deal with the tremendous earthquake hazard in this state, especially along the coast, and we came up with the idea that the best way to survive is to build up.”
Ezelle said it was groups working together with the full support of the local community that is making the tower a reality.
“This community has taken the first step, investing the time and energy to ensure the safety of the community,” he said. “This was a team effort, with the state, federal government and tribe working together. That’s what emergency management is all about, taking care of people.”
Michael Loehr, chief of emergency preparedness and response for the State Department of Health, said the tribe’s efforts have paid off not just for their community but others vulnerable to tsunami events.
“I’m grateful to the tribe for helping us prepare,” he said. “We don’t all experience a disaster each day, but all of us will experience one some day.”
Site testing already under way
Shipman announced that Department of Natural Resources state geologist surprised her earlier in the day, bringing a crew to the proposed site for the evacuation tower off the end of Blackberry Lane about a mile and a half east of the Shoalwater gym off of the Tokeland Road.
“They are out there doing testing where the tower is supposed to go,” said Shipman. “We were not expecting that.”
A crew of four was on the site in the early afternoon, pounding metal tubes against the ground and measuring the results. Joe Smillie with the Department of Natural Resources gave a brief rundown of the type of testing done.
“We had crews out measuring the seismicity of the soil around the tower site, and looking at the groundwater beneath using ground penetrating radar,” he said. “It will take us a couple of days to process the data, a couple more to review it. We’ll then pass that on to the tribe and the tower’s engineers so they can incorporate that into design.”
Shoalwater Bay Tribe chairwoman Charlene Nelson concluded the presentation by saying “Masi” to everyone who came. Masi is the tribe’s word for “thank you.”
“What we have made today is strength by working together,” she said, adding it was the community’s support that helped gain the funding for the tower and as a result “we have a way to be alive the next day” in the case of a tsunami.
Past emergency managers honored
Dave Nelson and George Crawford, were honored for starting the tribe on the path to the tower and were a big part of getting the tsunami warning sirens put in along Tokeland Road. Shipman said the north siren is named George, the southern one, where the tower is to be built, is named Dave in their honor.
Nelson, Crawford and the other speakers were presented with hand-made necklaces to commemorate the event.
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