[ABC News] As military helicopters ferry search and rescue teams over the Pacific Northwest, below them are scenes of devastation from a giant earthquake that could strike the region at any time.
Tsunami waters surge through coastal communities. Buildings, bridges and roads lie in ruins. Fires burn out of control. Survivors are stranded on rooftops, cling to floating debris or are trapped inside wrecked buildings.
Seismologists say a full rupture of a 650-mile-long offshore fault running from Northern California to British Columbia and an ensuing tsunami could come in our lifetime, and emergency management officials are busy preparing for the worst.
Federal, state and military officials have been working together to draft plans to be followed when the "Big One" happens.
These contingency plans reflect deep anxiety about the potential gravity of the looming disaster: upward of 14,000 people dead in the worst-case scenarios, 30,000 injured, thousands left homeless and the region's economy setback for years, if not decades.
As a response, what planners envision is a deployment of civilian and military personnel and equipment that would eclipse the response to any natural disaster that has occurred thus far in the U.S.
There would be waves of cargo planes, helicopters and ships, as well as tens of thousands of soldiers, emergency officials, mortuary teams, police officers, firefighters, engineers, medical personnel and other specialists.
"The response will be orders of magnitude larger than Hurricane Katrina or Super Storm Sandy," said Lt. Col. Clayton Braun of the Washington State Army National Guard, referring to two of the best-known natural disasters in recent U.S. history.
Since 2013, Braun has led a team at work on putting together a military response plan for Washington state, to be used in conjunction with efforts by state and federal civilian agencies.
Oregon's response plan is called the Cascadia Playbook, named after the threatening offshore fault — the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The plan, unveiled last year, has been handed out to key officials so the state can respond quickly when disaster strikes.
"That playbook is never more than 100 feet from where I am," said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. When Phelps goes out to dinner, he keeps the playbook in his car for quick access.
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011 gave greater clarity to what the Pacific Northwest needs to do to improve its readiness for a similar catastrophe. Read More