Insight from the West Fargo PD: Disaster planning and preparations
On September 10 2013 City of West Fargo staff, area emergency services providers and local industry representatives participated in a training exercise to test the local emergency response to a hazardous materials incident. The exercise involved the simulated derailment of a train carrying crude oil from western North Dakota. The test met its intended goal and served as an opportunity to learn new information and to develop stronger plans for emergency response to natural and manmade disasters. Exercises provide for the practice to move responders to a level of competence they hope to never have to use.
The first priority of emergency response is to protect lives through the immediate rescue of persons exposed to the hazard; to evacuate people from the threat area and to exclude people from entering a place of danger. The concern of the responder is not only for citizens exposed to the incident but also includes the safety and wellbeing of the responders. Trained response personnel and their specialized equipment are of limited quantity making it necessary to reduce their exposure to unnecessary risk. This may mean that property is allowed to be destroyed because conditions are too dangerous or the hazard is beyond the control capabilities of the equipment or the training of the emergency personnel involved.
The second priority of emergency response is to protect property and essential services within the community. Food, water and shelter are the necessities of a person’s immediate survival. Functioning sanitation services such a sewers and garbage collection are important for the longer term health of citizens. Distribution systems providing electricity, natural gas and communications are essential through the summer but could be deemed critical during our winter months. An assessment of the community identifies the property and services available and ranks them from most critical to the least important. This ranking will dictate which will be first to receive protection, repair and restoration before, during and after a disaster.
The third priority of emergency response is to protect the environment. The environmental effects of a disaster may be a temporary condition that may cleanse itself naturally or with only a little mitigation effort. Other effects may be longer lasting and more expense to mitigate or may even be permanent. Emergency response planning and operations strive to limit the environmental impact to the lowest level possible. The goal is to reduce or eliminate potential long term damage.
Local government, emergency responders and industry all conduct planning and training on an ongoing and regular basis to be better prepared for a disaster. Actual incidents vary from the nearly routine of a vehicle crash to a house fire on up to the attention grabbing train derailment. The complexities and impacts of a disaster may differ but the priorities are the same. The actions of the responders will be focused on those operation meant to save lives, protect property and protect the environment.
Michael Reitan, assistant police chief, WFPD