Managing a Disaster: Alaska Earthquake 2018

Blood Bank of Alaska is an essential facility and part of the emergency response system for the State of Alaska.  Our team of traine­­­d professionals routinely drill and train to ensure that we are able to respond quickly to hospital needs and navigate unexpected situations.  On November 30, 2018 those many hours of training were put to the test.  At 8:29 a.m. a 7.0 earthquake struck Southcentral Alaska just north of Anchorage, our doors had just opened to the first donors of the day.

When the shaking stopped, BBA’s trained team immediately initiated emergency response protocols. The first priority was to ensure the safety of blood donors and staff onsite. Though the center was briefly evacuated due to fire alarms, staff were soon able to reenter the building.  Hospitals were immediately contacted for blood need assessment as well as for the purpose of establishing positive communication. The Alaska State Emergency Response Center was contacted and provided with a situation report.

Collections were halted at once, as local officials requested all residents shelter in place to minimize injuries, and BBA notified donors via phone, email, social media and text to ensure their safety. While BBA ceased collecting blood, blood donors still arrived at our centers wanting to help others and make a donation.  This overwhelming commitment of our blood donors to help others demonstrates the heart of Alaskans.  All non-essential staff were released so they could connect with loved ones and check on their personal property.

The initial earthquake ended, but the event was far from over.  Our team across three cities felt multiple aftershocks while in recovery mode – some significant- this continued throughout the day. Staff began to do an in-depth assessment of damage to blood bank infrastructure and supplies.  This was performed location by location. During this time the administrative offices began to flood due to a sprinkler head and faulty drain. In the laboratory and manufacturing areas, staff had to quickly move and tent equipment to protect it from water and dust. Structural engineers had to be brought in to inspect buildings and verify they were safe. Through all of this, our dedicated staff remained in contact with our 21 partner hospitals to address their ongoing needs.

In the early hours following the quake it was unknown the extent of human injury throughout the community.  As the sole blood bank located in Alaska our staff coordinated with two centers in the Lower 48 to import additional units, as a precaution.  Thankfully, injuries were minimal and our existing inventory proved sufficient to supply hospitals across the state, including military and Alaska Native facilities in our rural communities.

Twenty four hours later, with the Anchorage center still not cleared for donors to enter, our team resumed collections by utilizing our mobile coaches and the Fairbanks center. Within 48 hours of the original event, all centers were fully operational.  While hundreds of Alaskans were still cleaning up their own homes due to damage from the earthquake our centers in Anchorage and Fairbanks were full of blood donors wanting to help those in need.

Alaskans are known for our independent spirit, yet we also share a strong sense of community, especially in times of crisis. We know that we have to work together when disaster strikes. Many when they think of Alaska, like to think that Alaska is part of the Pacific Northwest. But they would be mistaken, the closest border of Alaska is separated from the Continental US by both the Pacific Ocean and Canada, a distance of approximately 700 miles. The distance of Anchorage to Seattle is 1, 438 miles. To provide perspective, that is about the same distance between Seattle and Chicago, Illinois. Like Hawaii, Alaska is its own geography.  Blood Bank of Alaska has worked for 56 years to manage our expansive geography and logistical challenges to provide blood and blood products from Barrow to Juneau, in spite of unpredictable weather and unique geology.  We are honored to serve the State of Alaska and we take our role as part of the emergency response system seriously. On November 30, all of our planning and training for a major emergency were put to the test. We are proud to report BBA’s staff and Alaska blood donors rose to the occasion.