Echo Lake residents
Jim Scolman photo
Incident Commander Wayne Connell, at right, chats with residents Dave and Eva Fisher about the new Echo Lake Emergency Operations Center Aug. 14.
ECHO LAKE — The Big One is coming, and Wayne Connell, for one, wants to be ready.
Connell runs the Echo Lake community’s new Emergency Operations Center for this unincorporated, isolated area of thousands of households midway between Woodinville and Monroe.
In event of calamity — from a huge earthquake to a heavy snowstorm — the center’s equipment creates a lifeline to the outside world from a table in a room at the end of a church corridor.
Its official unveiling happened at an Aug. 14 block party following months of volunteer planning.
“We’re finally getting organized,” Connell said. “It’s exciting.”
Housed in a room of the community’s church, the center is basically a radio that allows communication with county emergency crews via antennae attached to a portable 30-foot tower.
If power fails and the two roads in and out of the area become impassable, the equipment offers the best chance to summon help.
“We’re organized around FEMA rules,” said Connell, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Act. “This isn’t just a fly-by-night. This is serious.”
Nine volunteers from the Echo Lake Community Group practiced using FEMA protocol during a July 30 training exercise with emergency-management teams from Snohomish County, Mukilteo and Monroe.
“We were able to pull it off without a flaw,” Connell said.
The premise of the exercise was a simulated earthquake along the South Whidbey Fault, a shallow fissure slashing diagonally from Port Townsend through the heart of the Echo Lake community.
Geologists predict a moderate earthquake along this fault would be more catastrophic than a larger quake in the more famous Cascadia Subduction Zone off of the Washington coast.
But even lesser disasters, such as snowstorms and windstorms, pose threats to the neighborhood.
At the block party, state Sen. John Lovick praised the emergency operations setup.
”It’s outstanding,” Lovick said. “I’m a big fan of President Eisenhower’s saying, ‘Plans mean nothing, but planning means everything.’ (Setting up the Emergency Operations Center) is challenging to do.”
Eleven-year-old Samuel Ervick was at a block party booth with his father, Michael. Both wore black T-shirts with “CERTWA” across the front. CERT training includes working with a GMRS relay radio (a step below a ham radio) to transfer GMRS calls, in effect, to ham radio operators, who can reach help within about a 40-mile radius.
His father Michael is heavily involved with CERT in Snohomish County. Samuel’s sister Emma, 16, just got her CERT license.
“When I’m 16, I definitely want to do CERT,” he said.
There are about 40 ham radio operators in the community, but only 6 to 10 who regularly participate in club activities, said Dick Williams, vice president of the community’s ham radio club.
Williams explained that ham and GMRS are independent systems. “It’s very good to be able to communicate” between the two, he said.
A main goal of the Echo Lake Community Group is to help residents get to know each other.
“We don’t have sidewalks where people can walk by and see their neighbors working in their yard and stop for a chat,” said Wendy Wester, group president. “We’re creating events where we can meet and greet.”
The block party that opened the emergency center to the community featured vendors, music, pony rides, ice cream and a professional stilt walker.
Attendees received tags with their first name and the name of their street so neighbors could be easily recognized.
“If you don’t know your neighbor you’re not going to trust them,” said Janet Macher, neighborhood club vice president. “Trust is a key element in an emergency situation.”
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