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Front Page » November 24, 2005 » Local News » Exercise designed to evaluate emergency response in county
Published 3,601 days ago

Exercise designed to evaluate emergency response in county

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Sun Advocate reporter

Bryan Anderson displays a computer model of what areas would be affected by a release of gas at a compressor station southwest of the fairgrounds. The model was used to demonstrate what areas would require evacuation with a 10 mile per hour wind from the southwest as posed by the scenario presented at the exercise. At night, when temperatures drop, a gas plume of hydrogen sulfide would still be dangerous at the hospital, almost four miles away from the source.

Representatives from various emergency response agencies in Carbon County discovered strengths and weaknesses at a tabletop exercise last Thursday.

At a tabletop exercise, local emergency responders responded to a fictitious situation presented by of state and federal agency representatives.

The event was organized by the county's local emergency planning committee.

The exercise presented a mock scenario to the group and allowed for participants to discuss how different groups would contribute to the response.

Scott Mabe of the United States Department of Homeland Security explained that the purpose of the exercise was to test and evaluate the plans, policies and procedures of the agencies involved.

Mabe said the objective of the exercises was to examine communication channels, and discuss the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved.

In the mock scenario, county commissioners received a letter from the extremist group CAVE - Citizens Against Virtually Everything one week prior to the county fair.

The letter alleged that Conoco-Phillips, a natural gas producer, is not environmentally-friendly and threatened damage to a facility owned by the gas company.

Initially, Carbon County commissioners would notify Conoco-Phillips, the sheriff's office, dispatch and the county's emergency management director, said Dennis Dooley.

Dooley serves as the county's emergency management director.

Mabe then moved time forward to the opening night of the fair. He explained that there was higher than normal attendance and the night was particularly cool.

Mabe said the extremists had broken into a compressor station southwest of the fairgrounds and sabotaged the facility.

At 7:30 p.m., the extremists detonated a device and releases a massive amount of hydrogen sulfide, a colorless, toxic and flammable gas into the air.

With a slight wind, the plume of toxic gas drifted toward the fairgrounds.

Representatives pointed out that no hydrogen sulfide is actually stored at their compressor station near the fairgrounds.

However, for the sake of the exercise, participants were asked to ignore such flaws in the scenario.

Soon after the detonation, Mabe explained, fairgoers began experiencing difficulty breathing and some were passing out. He said that calls began coming into dispatch.

Dave Johnson and Ted Cartright, representing public safety dispatch, said they would immediately dispatch paramedics, sheriffs and fire crews to the area.

Johnson and Carvin said they would likely dispatch the county's HAZMAT team at that time.

Dooley added that protocol would have them notify a commissioner or himself once the situation escalated and was clearly a large-scale incident.

Representatives of Conoco-Phillips said that at the time of detonation, instrumentation would alert the company to the problem. They would dispatch local employees to respond to the incident. Questar officials added that a drop in product into their system would alert Questar to the incident as well.

"We have a whole emergency plan," said Robert Bertola of Questar. He said that as prt of the plan, company officials would contact dispatch and county officials to advise them of the problem.

Mabe explained that as emergency crews responded to the fairgrounds, they would become casualties of the incident. He explained that the county HAZMAT team would need backup and emergency crews would be overwhelmed and need help. Mabe asked what inter-local agreements the county has that would be initiated to bring additional responders.

Dispatchers explained that the county has an agreement with Emery County, but that it requires commissioner approval to initiate. Dooley added that the sheriff or emergency management director could also initiate the agreement.

However, Robert Welch, a HAZMAT team member, pointed out that in an incident such as this, if one of those five individuals could not be reached, the response would come in from Emery County and the counties would worry about the legal ramifications later.

Mabe pointed out that the inter-local agreement may be one are that the county may want to revise to make a timely response both possible and legal.

Mabe then addressed the question of who is the incident commander. Dooley sad that while he would run an emergency operations center if necessary, the incident commander would be on the scene.

At the time of the call, the incident commander is the reporting party or parties that call 911. However, as soon as emergency responders arrive, the first on the scene is the incident commander.

Mabe emphasized the need to maintain the command and said that if the incident commander leaves, that responsibility needs to be given to someone else and all parties need to be notified.

As the incident progressed, Dooley said he would begin operations in the county's emergency operations center.

Mabe pointed out that there are now at least two emergency operations centers: one for the county and one for Conoco-Phillips. He said that an appropriate liaison needs to be delegated between the centers.

For instance, Mabe said the count needs to establish what area would be affected by the gas release. He pointed out the that county's geographic information system has some information and skills that could assist emergency officials in determining what area is affected.

Conoco-Phillips officials added that from the time the wells and compressor stations were planned, the company has data that would be useful and that they have models that show the spread of contaminants from any compressor station or well head.

After determining the affected area, an evacuation could be called. The health department and fire chief have the authority to call for an evacuation. One entity not at the exercise that could assist in this effort is the school district with its fleet of school buses.

In order to evacuate, county plans call for a door-to-door approach. However, that may change, said Dooley. He indicated that the county is working on an agreement with Carbon-Emery Telcom to have access to a complete updated phone directory, including unlisted numbers for emergency evacuations.

Mabe added that the county needs to pay attention to its special needs population. He said that nursing homes and assisted living facilities should have plans in place. He added that the the county and cities should make an effort to identify the homes of individuals in wheel chairs or who have disabilities and may need assistance in evacuating.

Local media can also assist in the evacuation, pointed out Mabe. He explained that by contact local radio stations, the county could spread the evacuation order more quickly.

After the evacuation commences, evacuees need a safe location to go to. He said the county would need to establish shelters and indicated that an inventory of possible locations, their capacities and resources should be kept.

Mabe explained after the exercise that he would make a report of the deficiencies that were shown by various entities in the county and make a report available to the agencies that participated. He asked that all agencies make a response within 30 days indicating by who and by when the deficiencies would be corrected.

He added that the next tabletop exercise should include some entities that weren't in attendance, such as school district officials, hospital personnel and elected officials. He pointed out that small communities often are able to address the deficiencies easier. He said the close ties in the community can make planning and preparing for a real emergency easier.

Mabe gave the example that elected officials can develop a relationship with business owners. He explained that in one community, the manager of the hardware store has given keys to local officials. In an emergency, the local officials can enter the store, take what they need, and leave an invoice.

He also addressed the need for more similar exercises. He said that the county should conduct at least one more table top exercise in the next year and plan a larger scale exercise. Mabe explained that there are two types of exercises that are larger than the tabletop exercise. One is a functional exercise that adds the element of real time to the scenario. The other is a full scale exercise that involves real people moving real apparatus.

He said the large-scale exercises can take a year or more to plan, but can show some deficiencies that may not reveal themselves in a smaller exercise.

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