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Andersen prepares for earthquake exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Whitney Tucker
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
On Aug. 8, 1993, the island of Guam was rocked when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, the largest ever recorded in the Mariana Arc region, devastated the small U.S. territory resulting in several injuries and moderate damage to structures and lifelines.

Airmen here reflect on personal experience to prevent future injury as the 36th Wing, in conjunction with local government agencies, prepares to conduct an earthquake exercise Sept. 21 through 22.

"Everyone needs to be aware that a severe earthquake will cause damage to buildings and the infrastructure on and off base," said Maj. Bruce Murren, 36th Wing Inspector General. "Hazards will be present all around us; our objective is to prepare people the best we can and to return the base to operational capability by taking care of our people."

For two Team Andersen members, the importance of earthquake preparedness strikes a familiar chord. Col. Randy Kaufman, 36th Operations Group commander, and Col. Johnny Lizama, 254th Air Base Group commander, witnessed the damage caused by the quake of '93 firsthand.

"I had just been promoted to Captain," said Colonel Kaufman, glancing through a worn notebook marked 1993. "I traveled to the Pacific Theater to fly the first ever B-52 to be invited to the Yokota Friendship Festival in Japan. My crew and I spent the weekend there, and on the 29th we headed to Andersen. The day before our departure, disaster struck."

Colonel Lizama remembers the events of that day vividly, from the foreign color of the sky to the feeling of unease that hung in the air long after the ground was still.

"It was like riding a wave," he said. "You could hear the rumbling sounds mounting up like a freight train barreling toward you. Large metal power poles began to rattle and shake in the ground as the earth became more and more unstable. After that, it was just a matter of what you're going to do next."

A Southern California native, a combination of experience and instinct served Colonel Kaufman well during the disaster.

"I had gone to college in an area prone to earthquakes," he said. "We could see the pavement rising and falling outside; everyone on the second floor of the hotel where we were staying immediately headed for the stairwell. I knew better and did everything I could to get them out."

When the earth settled and damage could be assessed, high-rise hotels suffered the greatest effects from the earthquake, two or three suffered structural damage severe enough to justify demolition. Effects to lifelines on the island ranged from minor in communications systems, to moderate in electric power, water and transportation systems and severe in the commercial port facility.

"Earthquakes can occur at any time without warning," Major Murren said. "The best preparation is to know what to expect and what to do. If an earthquake occurs while you are inside a building you should take cover under a heavy desk, table or against an interior wall. If you are outside during an earthquake, find an open area away from buildings, tress and telephone poles that could fall over."

Attaining the necessary stockpile of supplies is also a vital part of earthquake preparedness.

"Have some nonperishable food on hand, flashlights, first aid kit, cash and tools as infrastructure such as power and water may be affected," Major Murren said. "You also want to have a radio and plenty of extra batteries for communication and updates."

The Pacific Northwest is prone to hazardous seismic activity 365 days a year. Because Guam is located within this volatile region, the possibility of an earthquake is ever-present, making natural disaster planning a high priority.

"Practice and talk it through with your family," Colonel Lizama said. "Do your best to plan for the unexpected by educating yourself and your loved ones. Exercises are intended to prepare us for the real thing; it is our responsibility to act as if it were."

The earthquake exercise is being conducted in conjunction with many local government agencies in an effort to form a cohesive team and streamline emergency response processes.

For tips or questions concerning earthquake readiness, contact the Emergency Management Flight at 366-3113.

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