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Petersburg officials are reviewing the community’s response to a tsunami warning from the January 4th earthquake that rattled Southeast Alaska and sent residents scrambling to higher ground in the middle of the night. The voluntary evacuation went smoothly by many accounts but also highlighted some possible areas of improvement.
Petersburg’s public safety advisory board discussed the tsunami warning response at a meeting earlier this month. Police chief Jim Agner thought the community’s response went well under tough circumstances. “Because this was some of the worst possible conditions,” Agner said. “It was just above freezing, it was the middle of the night, it was raining, it was about a miserable thing and the entire community did very well.”
A tsunami warning was issued following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that rocked the region just before midnight on January 4th. It was located off the coast of Southeast about 71 miles from Craig. Here in Petersburg, residents were urged to move inland to higher ground. Many received notice of the warning through the community’s Code Red notification system. Police also announced the evacuation over loudspeakers while driving along the waterfront.
Agner told the board that dispatchers moved out of the downtown police building and worked from a communications trailer and from the new fire hall. “We have done a couple of sort of dry runs but there are some things you just don’t do,” he said adding, “And one of them was throwing the switch and we turned off this police facility. And when I left, I walked out to close the door and for probably the first time in 50 years, no one was in that building for a fairly significant amount of time. We walked away and we seamlessly made the conversion on both phones and radios.”
Agner said other things did not go as hoped, the Code Red warning system for instance. He said the emergency warning phone system notified many people about the tsunami danger, but far fewer people received the “all-clear” warning.
The board agreed that community members should prepare emergency bag with supplies in case people cannot return to their homes immediately.
Board member Jim Engel said another need to consider in planning was a place to gather for people without vehicles. He said police dropped off one couple where he was waiting at the Hammer and Wikan parking lot. “You know obviously when the hospital was evacuated they were brought to Mountain View manor,” Engel said. “But coming up with a pre-designated place for that population of people who don’t have a vehicle to sit in, that don’t have the ability to just say hey can I jump in your car. What do you do with that group? It isn’t necessarily a large population but it’s enough that the hour and a half they were up there they would’ve froze.”
Other people waited out the warning at the Petersburg Indian Association, Alaska Airlines terminal and the baler facility to name a few. And some residents chose not to leave their homes. Many evacuated to the location originally designated as the community’s gathering spot in Petersburg disaster response plan, the ballfields. At a meeting of the borough assembly this month, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht acknowledged problems with sending so many people to there. “Everybody goes to the ballfield and then we had a mess at the ball field,” Giesbrecht said. “You know the lighting is not as good, there’s only one way in and out, bathrooms weren’t open. So it may not be long-term the best place to send the whole town to all at once, so we gotta work through that a little bit.” Petersburg’s local emergency planning committee will revisit the community’s plan and determine other evacuation sites.
Giesbrecht also told the assembly the borough was looking into the cost of completing an inundation study. “It’s seemingly spending money on something we maybe already know but it basically says in the event of a tsunami it starts to outline where we should send people,” he said. “And today, because we’ve never done that we have to tell people the standard response which is one mile inland or 100 feet up. Which kind of limits where we can send people.”
An inundation study is one requirement for designation as a tsunami ready community. That’s a National Weather Service’s program aimed at helping coastal areas plan for potential impacts of an ocean wave. Other requirements are developing a formal tsunami plan, holding emergency exercises and posting signs for evacuation routes and safe zones. 16 Alaska communities, including Juneau Sitka and Yakutat in Southeast, are designated tsunami-ready.
There are a few tsunami zone signs are already posted on Mitkof Island. Drivers might have noticed the signs on Mitkof Highway near the Crystal Lake hatchery south of Petersburg. Those mark safe zones for the event of a failure of the Crystal Lake dam which could drop reservoir water down the mountain onto the roadway and buildings below.
Sandy Dixson, fire and ems director and chair of the Local Emergency Planning Committee said an inundation study and tsunami ready designation for the community may depend on the cost and finding funding. However, short of a full study she says the community could map out safe areas. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to start with the 100 foot elevation because that’s just a general rule of thumb that the state has put out there, the 100 foot elevation mark or one mile inland and it would be good for people out the road especially for them to find out where that is for them, where they should go,” she said. “And obviously that would be the cheaper route.”
Dixson agreed the response January 4th went well but says communication is always an issue. The warning siren failed and officials are looking into that problem. Also a number of people did not receive notification on the Code Red system, including Dixson, one of system’s administrators. Dixson said she’s heard from others who were not notified. “And my recommendation to them was to go into the system to make sure that you are registered and that you did put appropriate phone numbers in and then again trying to trouble shoot where that disconnect was because I should’ve, I have four numbers listed and again I didn’t get the calls,” Dixson said. “There is some type of disconnect there and we’re trying to figure that out.”
Other than a test of the system, the evacuation was the first community-wide call out on the Code Red system. Dixson encouraged people to plan ahead and take personal responsibility for readiness. “Don’t think of just a tsunami but what if their house was damaged what would they have done? What if they had been where the power’s been out. So it’s not just big events where it affects the whole community, what about just their neighborhood or just their home. So being ready, you know what medications do you need to go, do you need money, do you need a change of clothes, if you have babies do you need diapers and wipes, kind of thing. We as the city cannot provide that for each individual family. So we can do general things.”
She also cautioned people about getting information from reliable source, like the radio or code red system and being careful about unsubstantiated information sent around on social media.
The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says January’s quake was the largest recorded in Southeast since a 6.8 temblor in June of 2004. Other strong earthquakes also were recorded on the same fault in August of 1949 and July of 1972.
Two boats that sank in Jakolof Bay not far from Homer, Alaska, in December have been raised and moved to the Homer Harbor. U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Homer, working with Global Diving and Salvage, refloated the F/V Kupreanof and F/V Leading Lady last week and brought them to the harbor.
More than 300 sled dogs have been cleared to run in this year’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. KUAC’s Emily Schwing stopped by the vet check in Fairbanks on Saturday to find out what it takes to become a race-worthy sled dog.
Chatanika musher Dan Kaduce pulls his truck into a warehouse in south Fairbanks as two Yukon Quest veterinarians slap on latex gloves, swab thermometers with Vaseline and grab for their stethoscopes. The four time Yukon Quest finisher has 15 race dogs in his truck. They’re here for their pre-race check-up. Kaduce climbs out and pulls a 63 pound male husky from a dog box. “This is Draco. He don’t like females or strangers. He is from Fort Yukon,” says Kaduce.
Draco sniffs at the air with his huge gray and tan nose. Sled dogs that come from rural parts of Alaska are often large. Their ancestors pulled sleds and worked traplines in heavy snow and deep cold. Kaduce squats down to comfort Draco and Yukon Quest trail Veterinarian Nina Hansen moves in for an examination.
“I start at the front and work my way back and I start generally with teeth and gums. He’s nice and pink,” she says, as she looks in the dogs mouth. “When you push on their gums they turn white, they should back to pink in less than two seconds. And then I pick up their skin and it should fall down immediately and his does. He’s also a four for body condition.”
Race dogs are ranked on a scale from 1 to 5. Number one means the dog is too thin. A five means the dog is overweight. Most of Kaduce’s dogs are ranked as fours. “I just feel their hip bones, you shouldn’t be able to feel their spine between there,” she explains. “You should be able to feel their ribs, and I can. He seems like a more nervous dog, so his heart rate is probably going to be a little higher than average.”
Hansen listens to Draco’s heart and checks his paws. “He has big feet!” she exclaims. Dan Kaduce agrees.
Draco is definitely large in comparison to other Quest dogs. At two-years old, he’s also young, which is why he isn’t microchipped yet. All Yukon Quest dogs are required to have microchips. It’s a tiny radio frequency device, with a unique identification number. Hansen reaches for a needle and inserts the chip under the skin on Draco’s back. But Draco doesn’t even wince. The chip is smaller than a grain of rice. “Alright, let’s scan that,” says Hansen. She uses a green rectangular scanner to make sure the chip is working.
This is the third time she’s examined Draco this winter. He ran the 350 mile Top of the World sled race in December and the 300 mile Copper Basin in early January. Hansen was a vet for both races. She says he doesn’t appear any worse for the wear. “I want to say his body condition is maybe a little bit better,” she looks up from the dog. “He was never thin. But there should be more weight on them now because they’re doing a thousand miles. The top of the world, they just need to go 350, but he was never too thin.”
Hansen approves Draco for this year’s Yukon Quest. “He looks great!” she calls, and Kaduce hefts the brown eyed dog back into the truck. He reaches for the next one and the whole process begins again.
Nearby, Kathleen McGill surveys the scene. This is her seventh year as Head Veterinarian. She first started working with quest dogs as a trail vet more than a decade ago. Since that time, she says race dogs have changed significantly. “The feet were not as good as they are today,” remembers McGill. “There was a lot more lameness. The dogs just weren’t as toned and as athletic I think. More recently, we’re getting more of a hound-like dog and the feet are still really good, but the coats are thinner and the dogs aren’t thin, but they’re more athletic.”
Over the last two years, mushers, judges and veterinarians have all voiced concerns about dogs’ physical appearance toward the end of the race. Some have finished underweight. A rule change this year requires mushers to carry an adequate amount of emergency food in addition to what they routinely carry on the trail between checkpoints. Race Marshall Doug Grilliot will be watching to make sure dogs stay well-fed this year. “We’re gonna have a little bit more of an emphasis on the dog’s weight issues,” explains Grilliot. “A lot of that comes down to communication with the mushers in a timely manner from vets and officials. You don’t wait till the last minute. Most of the dogs will get progressively better or progressively worse as the race goes on.”
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The Anchorage Park Foundation is seeking applicants who want to make a difference in a neighborhood park or trail.
Have you always wanted to do something to improve your neighborhood park or trail? Does your community garden need some help to grow? Have a great project but not enough funds? Citizens can now apply for an Anchorage Park Foundation Challenge Grant.
The Anchorage Park Foundation challenges you to help us make improvements to our local parks and trails. APF will match $1 for every $1 in cash, materials, or volunteer labor that you can raise for your project. Together, we can improve our parks and public lands.
APF will match money raised, volunteer time and in-kind donations $1 for $1.
Since 2006, APF has awarded 61 Challenge Grants for park and trail improvements throughout Anchorage, featuring a wide variety of projects, including: facility upgrades; garden improvements; art installations; and recreation opportunities. As a result of past APF Challenge Grants, the Anchorage community has significantly revitalized our parks.
APF will be accepting applications until Friday, March 22nd. Two free workshops are scheduled for the evenings of February 11th at Spenard Recreation Center and 27th at Fairview Recreation Center, where applicants will have the opportunity to work with volunteer landscape architects on their applications.
Applications available in English and Spanish. Visit to anchorageparkfoundation.org to download.