Prepared for Disaster – Watsonville Pilots Drill for Disaster Response

earthquakehelicoptThe Register Pajaronian and the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote articles on “Prepared for Disaster” and “Watsonville Pilots Drill for Disaster Response” and the importance our own Watsonville Municipal Airport was during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake!  Below is the Register Pajaronian’s article and you can read Santa Cruz Sentinel’s story by clicking here.


WATSONVILLE –  In the wake of the catastrophic destruction of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Watsonville Municipal Airport provided the only major Santa Cruz County thoroughfare left intact. After the temblor, a group of volunteer pilots flying in and out of Watsonville Municipal Airport kept a steady stream of essential supplies coming in, and assured emergency workers and residents alike that their connection to the rest of the world, albeit tenuous, still remained.

In all, hundreds of pilots flew in thousands of pounds of food and supplies. Now, a group of local volunteers has banded together to assure that similar efforts will be immediately launched if another disaster occurs.

Watsonville Emergency Airlift Command Team is made up of pilots and other people who are ready to turn the airport into a command center to be used by the state, federal and local disaster response workers. “They did a great job, and they had nothing in place,” WEACT Flight Operations Manager Marjorie Bachman said. “We’re just trying to be more organized and have something in place. What we’re trying to do is be prepared in advance.”

For many, the recurrence of a giant earthquake is all but a certainty.  “Not if the next earthquake hits, but when, we’re organized,” Bachman said. In a four-hour simulated drill at the airport Saturday, the WEACT team will practice its plan. While some pilots take to the sky to assess damage to nearby levees, roads and highways, others will fly to airports at Hollister, Monterey and Salinas to pick up packages.

“We’re trying to make it somewhat realistic,” Bachman said. Forming WEACT puts Watsonville on the forefront of a growing national movement by community airports to enact similar plans, Bachman said. “We’re very excited,” she said. “This is something that can really help Santa Cruz County and the surrounding community .”

For 15 seconds on Oct. 17, 1989, the temblor bludgeoned the Central Coast, buckling roads, collapsing bridges and toppling buildings. When all was tallied, 63 people were killed, hundreds were injured and more than 2,000 were rendered temporarily homeless. The quake caused an estimated $7 billion in damage.

In the aftermath, Santa Cruz County was largely stranded after highways 1, 17, 129 and 152 were temporarily closed, choking off access for residents and for countless vehicles that could bring supplies.

In addition, teams of state, federal and local officials used the airport as a base, as did American Red Cross personnel and workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Airport Manager Rayvon Williams said WEACT is structured after a similar plan at San Martin Airport, where the pilots association in 2011 updated its own Disaster Airlift Response Team framework.  “I was very impressed with the plan, as it was well thought out, detailed and precise,” he said. After two years of work, WEACT had a written action plan, buy-in from the City of Watsonville , Santa Cruz County Office of Emergency Services, Santa Cruz Regional 911 and Caltrans. It also had a partnership with the American Red Cross of Santa Cruz, FAA approval and a secure staging area, Williams said.

In addition, the airport has a budget to support emergency preparedness for the next two years Now, although WEACT is made up of 12 organizers and approximately 30 volunteers, it is still looking to boost its ranks, with volunteer opportunities that include technical flight and airport issues, communications, material managers, and photographers . No flight experience is necessary .

“This isn’t a big time commitment ,” Bachman said. “We’re just asking people to be in a database. This is something that can really help Santa Cruz County and the surrounding community.”

Watsonville Emergency Airlift Command Team is looking for volunteers. For information, visit www.emergencyairlift .org, call (408) 768-8654 or email contact@

This entry was posted on Monday, October 6th, 2014 at 12:39 pm and is filed under Airport, City of Watsonville, Homepage News, Public Works . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.