More than a dozen Shawnee agencies took part in a statewide emergency management exercise Thursday in Shawnee.

Note: An in-depth look at how Shawnee — and the rest of Oklahoma — is dealing with the added threat of earthquakes, as the trend offers a pattern of stronger and more frequent temblors. Statewide training exercises are being executed to help responders and officials prepare for the possibility of an unprecedented type of disaster.

More than a dozen Shawnee agencies took part in a statewide emergency management exercise Thursday in Shawnee.

Dubbed, “Earth Wind and Fire 2016,” the event was sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, following guidance by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Shawnee Emergency Management Director Don Lynch said the training scenario that played out at City Hall was the city's first earthquake drill.

“We were simulating different hazards affecting different areas of the state,” he said. ”So, for us in central Oklahoma, we [trained for] an earthquake hazard.”

He said the training was designed and in the writing process for about a year.

“So, prior to the Pawnee and Cushing quakes, we already had a scenario developed to put this together,” Lynch said. ”We were simulating what would happen if a magnitude (mag) 6.5 earthquake was to occur northeast of Cushing.”

During the exercise, multiple agencies, including police, fire, streets, community development, Information Technology, health care and city officials gathered to a central location — an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the basement of City Hall — to respond to the mock disaster and work through how to get the community back on its feet.

The scenario centers around a mag 6.5 earthquake striking a location in central Oklahoma. Soon, reports flow in of sporadic power outages in particular areas, specific buildings collapsing in various towns, water and sewer lines failing, dispatch being overloaded with phone calls and cellular networks becoming jammed. Varying degrees of damage are reported most everywhere in the area. A driver is said to have run into a utility pole, causing other poles to fall — leaving another neighborhood without power. As an official spokesperson to the media, City Manager Justin Erickson offers reports of what is going on as it unfolds, issuing statements as he would during an actual event.

The many various agencies each sifted through conflicts and challenges related to their departments, as the situation played out.

Director of Operations James Bryce said after such an event his department would have to check for cracks or holes in the ground that could pose a danger.

How to guess

Lynch said the way the magnitude (mag) scale works is a number system — basically one through eight, etc., the higher the number, the more damaging the temblor.

What some people may not realize, Lynch said, is the levels on the mag scale grow exponentially.

“A mag 2.0 earthquake is 10 times greater than a mag 1.0,” he said.

He said responders assessed the shaking and damage that occurred from the mag 5.8 that occurred at Pawnee (in September), as well as the mag 5.0 in Cushing (two weeks ago), and increased those to a larger magnitude for their scenario.

“We simulated 10 times the magnitude of the earthquake that affected Pawnee,” he said.

Based on that, he said, they put together a simulated list of damages they would expect to occur in Shawnee.

“Myself and another person have been through both pre- and post-earthquake building damage assessments,” he said, “so, from that, we've used that as the model for putting this together — this is the National Earthquakes Hazard Program Guidance for simulating it.”

Lynch said the scenario was written so everything north of SH-59 was being impacted in some degree or fashion, with some sort of damage, which simulates the real-world conditions that could be expected, as well as surrounding counties that would likely be damaged.

“That's the scenario we were playing from, in addition to having some of our key partners provide us with some input for that,” he said. “We are playing this based upon the City of Shawnee being affected, as well as the surrounding areas.”

Lynch said it gives emergency management a new frame of operation for the department heads — the police chief, the fire chief, streets and engineering, community development department, etc. — the people that go out and deal with the consequences of the disaster.

“As we have seen in these disasters, you can't just go out and call on your neighbor to help you — they are going to be busy, as well — which forces you to look at how you are going to sustain yourself for those first few hours, etc., until resources can come in from farther out to assist you,” he said.

Lynch said the goals in the exercise and in the emergency operation center, were to look at how the area could coordinate, communicate, collaborate, and achieve resource management and information sharing during those critical first hours of the incident, so the team can do the best job that it can in getting resources where they will do the most good.

Another benefit to the exercise, he said, was simultaneously planning for what it likely would be like for the first 12, 36, or 48 hours down the road to see what resources would be needed for such an event.

“This helps us, by planning the worst-case scenario, to be prepared for anything less than that,” he said. “It's a good exercise for us to get together, practice and learn from each other before an event occurs; we're sharpening our skills,” Lynch said.

He said everybody's done exercises on tornadoes, winter storms, floods, hazardous materials, etc., because those are all hazards that impact the community.

He said every type of event will have its own nuances — so they're practicing how to respond to those.

The reasoning behind adding earthquake drills to the state's protocol is not difficult to understand. Previously unnoticeable, now, in the last few years, Oklahomans are physically feeling the stronger temblors — causing a shift in attention if not, at times, a bit of angst.

“Obviously because of the additional [earthquake] activity in central Oklahoma, everybody is now looking at that as an additional hazard,” he said. “We know that there's a presence there. Now earthquakes are presenting a hazard, so we want to add that to our training exercises.”

On the rise

According to the United States Geological Survey, at usgs.gov, three of the four Oklahoma earthquakes recorded at mag 5.0 or more have been this year: a mag 5.0 in Cushing just two weeks ago (Nov. 7); a mag 5.8 in Pawnee Sept. 3; and Feb. 13 there was a mag 5.1 in Fairview. The state's first mag 5-plus was Nov. 6, 2011, when a mag 5.7 occurred in central Oklahoma.

In the last 20 years, earthquakes have been getting significantly stronger and more often.

USGS data shows in the last three years mag 3-plus earthquakes in Oklahoma have numbered in the hundreds: between Nov. 18, 2015, and Nov. 18, 2016, there were 719; the same dates between 2014 and 2015, there were 896; and the same dates between 2013 and 2014, there were 507.

Figures are drastically lower before that. In 2012-2013 the data shows 87, and meanders down to 15 in 2008-2009.

During the 12 years prior, mag 3-plus temblors were at four or below, often recording one or zero in a year.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.