SIDNEY — It was a disaster that wasn’t really a disaster.
On Wednesday, several groups took part in the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) exercise. The Sidney Police Department was the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and several areas were set up for groups — Operations, Planning, Logistics, Finance and Public Information Officers (PIO).
Since a real emergency situation would not take place with everyone already in the building, people were admitted to the room in groups. This added to the realism of the exercise. Everyone got to work right away to respond to the emergency at hand.
Sidney Fire Chief Bradley Jones was the leader of the exercise and told everyone that the mock situation was a wreck involving a tanker truck at the Fair Road exit on Interstate 75. It was unknown what the tanker carried. In the scenario, it was July and the fair was having a promotion, Carload Night. This meant that the fair was heavily attended.
Chief William Balling took the lead as the original EOC manager and made sure the initial activities were underway. His next duty was to call Mark Cundiff, city manager. As soon as Cundiff was admitted to the room, Balling turned over his duties and became Cundiff’s liaison.
The responders in the room worked diligently as more people were admitted and the situation evolved. In the scenario, traffic was diverted into town and another accident involving a tanker was said to have taken place. It was determined that the tanker on the interstate did not carry a hazardous material; however, the one in town did.
Many things were happening at once. There was a mock evacuation of citizens in the area, as well as from the fairgrounds. The group worked to meet each demand that was placed on them and to spread out and begin to work with the county officials.
The responders were given a list of fake phone numbers to use that went to phones manned in another room. All outgoing calls were prefaced and ended with the sentence, “This is a practice drill.”
The same sentence was used before and after any social media updates that were placed on social media by the PIO.
The exercise was halted, and everyone was given a 10-minute break. When they returned, the scenario was advanced and it was time to deal with the aftermath. This was handled by the same groups and in the same manner.
The exercise was evaluated by a state group of evaluators.
The evaluators mentioned such things as the communication between groups, the use of resources, the mock press conference held, the resource management, the willingness to help in whatever area needed, and the effort made to get information out to the public.
The PIO had a blip in their actions when they had to stop posting on Facebook because some citizens were alarmed, despite the alert that this was an exercise, and worried that the events were actually taking place.
It was discussed in the debriefing that next time they will create a private page for such updates so as not to alarm the public.
In the debriefing, each group had a representative stand and give 2 positive and 2 negative comments about the exercise and the interaction within and between groups.
Some things noted to work on were some issues with the phones, more maps available to all groups and updated as the exercise went along, and more briefings given to the entire room.
Jones told the group, “Yes, we need to stand up and tell the room, ‘Hey, we had another accident.’ I agree completely. We plugged into this one and made sure that people who stare at spreadsheets for a living had an opportunity. Thank you for your energy!”
Acting EMA Director Sam Reed thanked the group for their hard work and success with the exercise, and told them that he would evaluate what could be done to help them.
“Now, I’m going to go back and see what I need to do. Also, the amount of group participation was great. I didn’t see anyone just sitting on the sidelines ticking down the hours. You guys communicated well. Moving forward I want to get communication from the groups to see how I can streamline things,” said Reed.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News