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Earthquake exercise tests aircraft, first responders for emergency preparedness

It was the first full-scale Northwest Regional Aviation Consortium drill in several years due to the pandemic.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — First responders from across western Washington met at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Snohomish County on Tuesday to plan and practice procedures for earthquake and tsunami response

"We're really testing the system as it comes down," said Deputy Bill Quistorf, the chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. "Any government agency that has the ability of transporting patients, gear, people, search dogs, we want to tap into them and then any fixed-wing aircraft that have video downlink capability and the communications we need to do aerial surveillance, and photo mission, which means to take photos and videos of the mission and beam that back to our emergency management office."

The Northwest Regional Aviation Consortium consists of local, state, federal and military agencies. This is the first full-scale exercise in several years due to the pandemic.

Quistorf said in the case of an emergency such as an earthquake or tsunami, aircraft are key for responding, rescues, situational awareness of the incident, and moving personnel. Aircraft are also key for high-rise rescue work; engine ladders, he says, can typically reach up to 10 stories, but many buildings in downtown Seattle rise far beyond that. 

"We have the capability between us and King County Air Support unit, to take people, we can take five, six at a time, move them from one building top in jeopardy to a safe building and make it a quick round-robin mission, so that's really key," Quistorf said.

Along with flight personnel, emergency medical teams are also involved in exercises to make sure medical care is on scene, and that personnel are available to transport patients to local hospitals.

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