Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Locals assess buildings post disaster

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Sunday, April 29, 2007

PALMER— Thirty employees from a range of public entities: the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Palmer City, Wasilla City, the MAT-SU School District, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, among others, completed a class together this week on assessing whether a building is safe after an earthquake.

Earthquakes are part of living in the MAT-SU. In 2002, the Denali fault generated a magnitude 7.9 earthquake. Even though the fault is north of MAT-SU, the shaking felt here was strong enough to violently swing light fixtures. Closer to home is the Castle Mountain Fault, which runs through the heart of the Borough, from Sutton to Houston and farther west.

The class is one element of a multi-agency pilot project called Increasing Agency Disaster Preparedness Pilot Project. The training, so far, focuses on public buildings and public entities, and ultimately will be expanded to cover residential and commercial buildings. The aim is to take stock of how the public entity came through a disaster so it can get on with the job of helping the community at large, Pilot Project Leader Pamela Bergmann said. Agencies within the federal, state, and local government are participating. Disasters could mean more than earthquakes.

"In the event of a disaster, for the MAT-SU for example, these questions need to be asked: are you okay, is your building okay, do you have people injured? If a fire station is collapsed then you don't have the fire truck to fight a fire. So agencies that have a responsibility to help the public, also need to first make sure that they're prepared to take care of their own employees and rapidly assess their own needs. Then they do the emergency response that the public would expect them to do," Bergmann said.

The public entities involved will create disaster response plans that focus on their buildings where ten or more employees work. The Borough, together with the cities, has several buildings that fall into this category. Other aspects of the pilot program will include light search and rescue and simple triage and rapid treatment of employees.

MAT-SU Public Works Director Keith Rountree is one of the trainers. He and three others from the MAT-SU received instructor's training last Oct. Five different teams of trainers were trained. Previously only two people in the state could provide post disaster assessment training.

"If facilities are damaged during earthquakes, floods, high winds, etc, we will have the in-house capability of assessing the damage and determining if the facility is safe. This will enable us to quickly identify structures that are safe for re-entry and those that must be avoided. Disasters affect the public in many different ways; this program will also assist communities in returning to normalcy as quickly as possible," Rountree said.

After completing the two-day course, the participants became certified as Damage Assessment Evaluators. The second day included a field exercise where participants evaluated buildings that are mocked up to simulate earthquake damage. Participants examined the former Kenai Supply building in Wasilla. Photos taped throughout indicated the imagined scenarios of hazardous materials on scene, geotechnical problems, damaged and blocked stairs, holes in concrete floors, an unstable support brace, among other clues.

The major focus of the exercise is to make the evaluators aware of the potential damage and to get them used to evaluating structures as a whole using geotechnical, structural, non-structural and hazardous materials guidelines, Rountree said.

For more information, contact Public Works Director Keith Rountree at (907) 745-9801 or MAT-SU Public Affairs Manager Patty Sullivan at (907) 745-9577.

Photos taken by Patty Sullivan, MAT-SU Borough.