MARCH 1-2, 2006


To:                   National Partnership Members, NGA, NACo, U.S. Conference of Mayors


From:              Robert C. Wible, Director, National Partnership Development


Date:               March 6, 2006


Subject:           Report on the Pacific NorthWest Economic RegionŐs (PNWER)

Blue Cascades III Exercise





As demonstrated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, large scale disasters can bring about massive losses of life and property and paralyze the economic viability of nationŐs regions.


The public and private sector in the Pacific Northwest, including the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon Territory, have been working since the mid-1990Ős within the structure of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) to promote the economic growth and viability of their region.


In the wake of the events of 9-11-2001, PNWER identified, designed and has conducted a series of exercises to explore regional preparedness and response to common disasters. In June 2002, Blue Cascades I was held in Portland, OR, and focused on a terrorist attack on the power system infrastructure. In September 2004, Blue Cascades II was held in Seattle and explored preparedness and response to an attack on the regionŐs cyber infrastructure.


With funding from the Department of Homeland Security and several of its members, the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region on March 1 and 2, 2006, brought together in Bellevue, WA, over 300 representatives from public utilities, major employers, health care, emergency managers, and other government officials and personnel from five states and three provinces and the national governments of Canada and the United States to discuss the impact on the region and consider an action agenda for strengthening the regionŐs response to, recovery and reconstruction from a level 9 earthquake along the Pacific Northwest Subduction Zone.


The March 1 and 2 program focused on long-term disruptions of critical infrastructure within the region as well on large losses of life and property from collapsing bridges, highways, buildings, fires from ruptured gas lines caused by both the quake its subsequent after shocks and tsunamis.


Among the major objectives of the Blue Cascades III exercise were:










The two day exercise was extremely well run and appeared to achieve each of the above objectives. The exercise documented that, while many segments of the public and private sector indeed had developed plans for responding to and recovering from the level nine earthquake because of the interdependencies and complexity of that event, those plans required greater coordination with each other and greater detail to make them successful should they need to be implemented at this time. This was found to be especially true of recovery plans.


The exercise identified a number of areas needing work and provided a mechanism for additional input so a region-wide action agenda could be prepared in the coming months for subsequent adoption and implementation.


Blue Cascades III also provided a template for successful regional disaster preparedness initiatives in other parts of the nation. The exercise firmly documented the critical role that the construction and building regulatory community plays in disaster preparedness, response and recovery and generated a list of actions that should be taken to strengthen the ability of the community to successfully fulfill their role.






To address the above objectives, the Blue Cascades III exercise divided attendees into both subject area and inter-disciplinary table-top discussion teams to go through the disaster scenario and address questions designed to obtain participant comments/recommendations in these areas.


The disaster scenario was carefully prepared over a six month period by the Disaster Design Team comprised of leaders from critical segments of the regionŐs infrastructure. The scenario was based upon the May 2005 Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW) report (Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake scenario), and established timelines and events that played out from the moment of the quake through the subsequent impact of its tsunamis, to the first two days and then seven days after the event.


A workbook was provided to the participants that spelled out the facts at each stage during the disaster and asked basic questions for the above discussion groups to sort out and report upon concerning how their industry or their interdisciplinary discussion group would respond to that event or set of facts.


Feedback from each of the discussion tables and the general discussions by the full group of participants was recorded by over 40 Exercise Evaluators and then reported upon during general sessions for all participants. Administratively, the program was kept to its ambitious timetable and afforded ample opportunities for the views and recommendations of all participants to be heard and recorded.


Findings/Feedback From The Exercise


As noted by one participant, the March 1 and 2 exercise documented that, while the Pacific Northwest Region had developed plans to address a major earthquake event, those plans, especially for recovery, were relatively uncoordinated, with few partners in the public and private sector, given the complexity and the magnitude of the impact of such an event, understanding how their plans intersected the plans of other parties they were dependent upon for critical services.


For example, during the recovery phase the water industry did not know exactly how their plans were affected by the plans of the power companies; neither of those two groups understood fully how their plans were impacted by the departments of transportationŐs plans to inspect and repair damage to highways and bridges, or the availability of building officials and qualified private sector firms to do building damage assessments or approve and undertake repairs or reconnect power, water, gas services to buildings.


Among the major issues identified over the two days for future action were the following needs:

















Two overarching and challenging questions emerged out of the Blue Cascades III exercise. Both are rooted in the Pacific Northwest region but have national relevance as well:


1) How to you pull together all of the stakeholders within a region as diverse as the Pacific Northwest to set and adhere to an action agenda to strengthen regional disaster resilience and make certain region can respond and recover as quickly as possible to the event?


2) How do you get the public to support such an initiative, including their purchasing and maintaining their own supplies of food, water and medicine, to survive on their own for extended periods of time (a week or more in the case of Blue Cascades III; months in the case of the Avian flu), when the threat that they are preparing for may come tomorrow, or 200 to 400 years from now?


The first of these questions seems to be well within the hands of the membership of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. Unfortunately in extrapolating the lessons learned in Blue Cascades III to other parts of the nation, there are only two or three other regional public- private sector initiatives around which a similar program could be undertaken


The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP), in which it is proposed that the National Partnership become a member, has undertaken a project and published a guide (Guide for an Action Plan to Develop Regional Disaster Resilience) to expand such regional disaster preparedness activities. This Guide provides guidance for not only establishing similar regional coordination efforts but for getting the construction industry fully integrated into disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts.


The second of the above questions is perhaps the more difficult one for PNWER and our nation to address. It is just plain human nature to never envision that the worst can indeed happen. Most people live with the belief that tomorrow will be just like today and that something that last happened 300 years ago just isnŐt relevant to them today. Moreover, most people believe, or still believe even after Katrina, that the cavalry always will come to their rescue within two or three days of a disaster event.


Whether it is preparing the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, or St. Louis for the Ňbig one,Ó or residents of Washington, D.C., New York City or Boston for a WMD (weapon of mass destruction) event, most people just go on believing that Ňit canŐt happen here,Ó not only not taking precautions to stockpile food and water but then not even evacuating while they can from something more predictable and certain like an approaching hurricane.


This task, public education and public preparedness, will be one of the most challenging for PNWER, its members and elected officials within that region and other regions across the nation.




The next step in Blue Cascades III is the receipt by PNWER from the participants of their evaluation forms on the exercise and compiling that input along with more detailed forms prepared by 40 or so Exercise Evaluators and the notes assembled during the two-day program and its hot wash sessions.


These materials will then be distributed to all attendees and on April 27, 2006, a follow-up one- day session will be held in Seattle to digest and discuss all of that input and prepare proposed follow-on action agenda for PNWER, PNWER members and local, county, state/provincial and federal (U.S. and Canadian) governments to implement to better assure disaster resilience within the region.


PNWER will be extending an invitation to more representatives from the public and private sector in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana and the Canadian provinces to join them for this follow-up meeting. This includes greater representation from the construction community and state/provincial regulatory agencies.




Katrina demonstrated the need for more extensive coordination between the public and private sector in planning, preparation, response, recovery and reconstruction after large scale disasters. Katrina added immediacy not only to the Blue Cascades III exercise but to disaster planning and preparedness throughout the United States.


The March 1 and 2 Blue Cascades III exercise documented that even in a region where disaster plans already existed for handling a large scale earthquake event, those plans were relatively uncoordinated and were often based upon assumptions of the existence of infrastructure that, in reality, would be severely damaged, disrupted or even destroyed making the plans impractical.


With over 85% of the nationŐs infrastructure being designed, built and managed by the private sector and nearly all of that construction regulated by local, county, and state governments, Blue Cascades III also firmly documented for all attendees the critical and too often overlooked role that the construction community, both the private sector construction firms and government regulators, play in disaster preparedness, planning, response and recovery.


The exercise participants in particular noted the following needs in this regard:







The above list of needs are common to all parts of our nation--the Gulf as it recovers from Katrina and Rita; the Los Angeles Basin as it continues to prepare for its own major seismic event; the Atlantic coastal states as they prepare for the upcoming hurricane season; the mid-west as they prepare for a major seismic event of their own; and the entire nation as we continue our efforts to prepare for, respond to and recover from a future terrorist event (WMD), etc.


The above items also are all parts of the core reason for establishing the National Partnership to Streamline Government out of the loosely affiliated Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age. The National Partnership will provide a formal structure for the nationŐs construction community, government agencies from federal, state and local governments, and associations representing each level of government, to undertake coordinated work on the issues relevant to streamlining the building, zoning and land use regulatory processes to make our communities and regions both more disaster resilient and our nation more competitive in the global economy.


This report on Blue Cascades III will be discussed further by the above groups at the March 20, 2006, streamlining meeting at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C. Should you have any questions regarding this report, the Blue Cascade III exercise or the March 20 meeting, please contact Robert Wible at 703-568-2323 or


In addition to this report, the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) will post to its website – – a summary report on the Blue Cascades III exercise.