LEPC is preparing for the worst
By Annette Tait
A truck hauling anhydrous ammonia crashes into a school bus at the intersection of state highways 25 and 48, at the south edge of town. Would Oliver County emergency services personnel be ready?
That’s the point of holding hazardous materials (Haz-Mat) and other worst-case scenario exercises – to give hands-on experience in situations everyone involved hopes will never occur.
This is precisely what the Oliver County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) discussed at its meeting last Thursday. The committee is working to plan a full-scale exercise to include patients in moulage – realistic-looking fake wounds, and involvement of air ambulance service, North Dakota Highway Patrol, and mutual aid emergency services entities in adjoining counties. The exercise will be treated as if it were a real-life mass casualty incident.
“A lot of chemicals go through Oliver County. We look at what’s the greatest threat, and what can we use for an exercise?” Oliver-Mercer Emergency Manager Carmen Reed said. “We chose anhydrous ammonia because it’s the most likely chemical [for a Haz-Mat incident] in Oliver County. Realistically, it could happen.”
The LEPC discussed lessons learned during the Beulah full-scale Haz-Mat exercise Sept. 30. After review of the after action report of that exercise, it was agreed that communications was the major issue needing attention. The committee determined a communications plan is needed, and will develop a plan for use in Oliver County prior to holding the full-scale exercise.
A table-top exercise – used to prepare for the full-scale scenario – will be held in February 2016, and a hazardous materials awareness class will be held in Center for all responders prior to the full-scale exercise. Grant funding will cover the majority of costs for the training and exercise.
Committee members also reviewed the county’s Threats & Hazard Identification & Risk Assessment (THIRA) document, which helps to plan and prepare for both natural and man-made disasters that could potentially occur in the county. Oliver County’s THIRA addresses summer storms, with high winds and/or tornados; winter storms with blizzard conditions and extreme cold; prairie fires such as occurred this past summer south of the Price Road that consumed more than 2,000 acres of grassland; incidents involving hazardous materials; and an active shooter incident.