At 10:10 AM on March 27, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake erupted in Alaska’s Prince William Sound about 70 miles east of Anchorage. It devastated the city and caused significant damage over more than a 50,000 sq. mile area. The resulting underwater landslides and sea floor elevation shifts created a a tsunami that rose to 220 feet in some areas in the Gulf of Alaska. Within the next 24 hours, 12 aftershocks of 6.0 magnitude or greater continued to rock south central and southeast Alaska, significantly limiting initial damage assessments and rescue operations.
Roadways and railroads were buckled and broke apart, covered with trees, rocks and dirt from landslides. Portions sunk into the ocean along the coast. Almost all bridges were damaged and required at least an engineer’s survey before use.
Moreover, the Port of Anchorage was damaged. One cargo terminal collapsed while the two remaining terminals sustained minor structural damage to the terminal supporting dock. Because the crane tracks were rated to 50 percent capacity, the port’s lift capability was dramatically reduced. One collapsed and the other’s lift capacity dropped to 50 percent, reducing the overall docking support.
Two of the four petroleum storage tanks ruptured and a petroleum terminal suffered structuraldamage requiring a full manifold replacement. The sea floor at the port lifted to a depth of 15 feet, preventing commercial cargo ships from mooring at the port since their required water depth is 18-22 feet.
To complicate matters further, the communication network throughout the area was compromised; fumes from natural gas and heating oil were widespread in south central and southeast Alaska, and 20 percent to 35 percent of all structures in the affected area were damaged to varying degrees.
Recreating and responding
The 2014 National Exercise Program’s (NEP) Capstone Exercise simulated the 1964 Good Friday Alaskan Earthquake.
Nearly 12,000 Department of Defense (DoD) personnel participated in the exercise, which substantially improved interagency preparedness in managing catastrophic, widespread natural disasters in an area the size of Alaska. The event enabled the Army’s 7th Expeditionary Transportation Brigade (7th TB(X) to exercise and demonstrate its capabilities in responding to requests for assistance from civil authorities and mission assignments to support a lead federal agency.
Read the complete report (no registration required) in the current February/March 2015 Homeland Security Today.
Army Maj. Michael J. Harris is Director of Support Operations-Port Opening and Synchronization Cell, 7th TB(X) at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. He was the JLOTS chief operations officer and the the Joint Officer In Charge of Operations during JLOTS 14. He’s also a graduate of FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute-Interagency Logistics Course.