CLATSOP COUNTY — The U.S. Navy launched two Landing Craft, Air Cushioned (LCAC) hovercrafts from the U.S.S. Anchorage as part of ongoing Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) readiness training conducted at Sunset Beach State Recreation Site, south of Warrenton, Oregon, near Camp Rilea on June 3, 2019.
The two LCAC’s transported supplies, heavy equipment and crewmembers ashore, demonstrating how naval assets could be used to deliver important supplies and support essential emergency operations to the region in the wake of a Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake and tsunami.
The Oregon Military Department, local first responders from Clatsop County Emergency Management, and other State and Federal agencies co-sponsored the joint instructional training exercise, continuing to building multi-partner relationships and help raise public awareness for emergency operations following a CSZ event.
In response to a catastrophic earthquake and possible tsunami in the north coast region, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Governor can request to use forces for assistance from civil authorities for emergencies, law enforcement support, and other domestic activities. DSCA conducts training with the Armed Forces and is a core area of operations for the Navy with responsibility along the U.S. West Coast. With the possible widespread damage to infrastructure, roadways, bridges and other vital resources to the region, the frequent training with the Navy is essential to the development of rescue and recovery efforts.
Developed for military operations, the LCAC is a distinct amphibious ship with the ability to travel over both water and land and is able to transport a payload up to 60 tons. In response to a substantial Cascadia event, they could be used to deliver important supplies, equipment and resources to cut off areas between the coastline and the western Cascade mountain range.
The LCAC’s made two beach runs during the three-hour demonstration period, taking local media, key first responders, and other officials to the U.S.S Anchorage for a tour of the ship and then returned back to the beach. During the tour, visitors were given access to a wide range of the ship’s operations and received briefings on many of the emergency capabilities that could be conducted by the nearly 300 full-time crewmembers.
U.S. Navy Capt. Dennis Jacko, commander of the U.S.S. Anchorage told many of the visitors that the Sailors train not just for combat operations but also for emergency operations and humanitarian assistance situations like a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami episode.
“Often a U.S. Navy ship, depending on the event, can be the first group to respond for help,” he said.
The U.S.S. Anchorage has nearly 25,000-square feet of vehicle space and can hold up to 10 helicopters. While Jacko briefed the group on the flight deck, he said that the “landing area can handle nearly every rotary aircraft the Navy and others can fly.”
As the group touring the ship split into two groups, Lt. Commander Chris McCurry was eager to interface with the 30 plus members he chaperoned around the U.S.S. Anchorage.
“I am a native Oregonian so I have a real connection and genuine interest in how we could support emergency operations to the Pacific Northwest,” he exclaimed over the noise of the flight deck. The former Beaverton resident answered questions and shared a few stories with the group about his Navy career as they moved throughout the multiple decks of the ship.
“We have the ability to have 800 on the ship if there was a major catastrophic event and if we need to bring people aboard for treatment or evacuation,” he said, showing the medical facilities of the ship. When asked by one of the visitors how they go from 300 serving Sailors to 800 citizens, McCurry promptly exclaimed, “It’s called ‘Navy Ingenuity’; we brainstorm viewpoints from nearly everyone, and then make it happen based on the best ideas.”
In assessing mass causality scenarios, McCurry reintegrated that this type of quick thinking ‘outside the box’ produces results that saves lives. The ship hospital has two operating rooms, a full intensive care unit, bunk beds for survivors care, a dental staff, and a staff of nearly two-dozen doctors, health professional and medical corpsmen.
“To be able to provide emergency assistance from food, water, industrial equipment, medical supplies and other capacities is extraordinary,” he said, summarizing the Navy’s mission and his role with the Third Fleet. “It makes me very proud both of my state (Oregon) and the United States Navy that I’ve been part of for 25 years.”
Nearly as quickly as the tour was, it was soon time to load up again in the LCAC’s and make the short 3 nautical mile trip back to Sunset Beach landing area. As impressive as the hovercrafts landings were and the organizational capacity with the staff aboard the U.S.S. Anchorage, Navy officials stressed that residents of the Pacific Northwest need to be prepared, especially for local citizens who might have to evacuate the tsunami zone.
Early on before help arrives, people are going to have to take care of themselves,” said Commander Brian Sauerhage, who serves and the Naval Expeditionary Force and DSCA planner for the U.S. Third Fleet.
When speaking to reporters, Sauerhage reinterred what many emergency managers have been saying about being prepared for any major disasters in the area. “You need to have a plan and resources for several days because it will take time for the Navy to get here.”
“In time the Navy will be coming,” said Andrew Phelps, Director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. “That’s why the message to Oregonians is you need to be ready for (up to) two-weeks for any disaster; let alone a Cascadia earthquake or tsunami.”
Along with the LCAC training exercise, a C-130 Hercules, assigned to the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan, conducted simulated air drops of supplies as part of this joint exercise.
“The interagency cooperation from the Oregon Military Department, the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Clatsop County Search and Rescue, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, CERT volunteers (Community Emergency Response Team) and other local agencies made this exercise a real success,” said Stephen Bomar, Public Affairs Director for the Oregon Military Department.