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Photos: Arctic Shield practices for the next Alaska disaster

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published April 3, 2014

The Port of Anchorage was busier than usual this sunny Thursday afternoon. In addition to the typical hustle and bustle of port personnel loading shipping crates, and the comings and goings of semi-trucks, 551 military personal from five different states were in the midst of a military exercise to simulate a response strategy for when Alaska next feels the effects of a super-shaker earthquake.

"This week and last, we've been commemorating the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964," said Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. "I was here in 1964 and saw the devastation that happened. Our port, the port in Southcentral, was the one that survived. Seward, Valdez (and) Kodiak all had tremendous damage, and this was really the instance that caused Anchorage to be the primary port for all of Alaska."

The port, which Sullivan affectionately referred to as the "Port of Alaska," brings in roughly 90 percent of all consumer goods to the Last Frontier, from the produce stocking shelves at local grocery stores to the military materials that outfit Alaska's soldiers. "If you're eating it, driving it or building with it, it probably came through the port," said Port Director Richard Wilson.

During the exercise, called Alaska Shield 2014, the massive Navy cargo ship USNS Mendonca is anchored in Cook Inlet, one of seven watercraft involved in the simulation. The collaborative military event is designed to find answers for a key set of questions: Can the ships identified for response sail in the waters of Cook Inlet? Can they deal with the massive amounts of glacial silt? And how can they handle the drastic tide changes? The answers are still revealing themselves.

The exercise process seems simple enough: The largest ship in the Army's inventory, the LSV-7 from Hawaii, will meet the Navy ship. Containers loaded full of medical supplies, blankets and other goods needed for sustaining life in Alaska will be transferred to the Army vessel and then smaller boats will lighter the materials to shore.

On Wednesday the military moved 105 20-foot crates from the USNS Mendoca to the port. On average the port annually moves 240,000 cargo containers.

Such shield exercises have been practiced around the world from Korea to Antarctica. The 7th Transportation Brigade was among responders to the 2010 Haiti disaster.

Alaska Shield 2014 will wrap up on April 7.