LEPC notes lack of communication with state, federal agencies
During a regular meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee last week, the lack of communication from state and federal offices was brought up as Nome gets ready to host several drills related to oil spill response, hazmat release response and a large-scale Dept. of Defense organized disaster drill dubbed “Arctic Chinook”.
LEPC chair Tom Vaden reported to the group, consisting of first responders, local police, emergency managers, hospital representatives and school representatives that he had asked the state if there one point of contact for emergency drill information. “They said ‘NO’,” said Vaden.
Vaden reported that the U.S.Coast Guard plans a Northwest Arctic Subarea oil spill response workshop and an equipment deployment demonstration to be held at Hastings Creek on June 14 and 15.
The USCG is in the process of updating a so-called “subarea” oil spill contingency plan, which aims to list all resources available and steps to be taken in the event of an oil spill in this region.
A few months later, in August, the Dept. of Defense’s Northern Command are planning a Search and Rescue exercise that mock drills a large cruise ship disaster in the Bering Strait. Vaden said it is going to be a high-profile exercise, including Canadian assets and a prominent spectator as Senator Lisa Murkowksi is scheduled to be present. The drill is connected to a Search and Rescue agreement on the Arctic Council level and increased anxiety over larger and larger cruise ships probing into arctic waters as the sea ice decreases due to a global warming trend. While smaller cruise ships have been visiting Nome and the Bering Strait region for a long time, the appearance of the mega-cruise liner Crystal Serenity, with 1,000 passengers and a crew of 600, this summer is new.
In preparation for “Arctic Chinook”, Vaden notes, communications with the participating and lead agencies are not ideal. “We are expected to spool up an Incident Command and now they ask us to supply 60 volunteers for the drill,” Vaden said. The lack of a clear picture of what is expected of Nome is complicating matters for local emergency responders. “We don’t have a clear picture what to prepare for,” Vaden said. At this moment it is clear that Nome is expected to stand up an incident command, that Nome responders have to prepare a landing site, to receive “casualties” and to transport them to a reception center and to show that Nome can handle a small medical “surge” of six patients that are “ill” but not “injured” in the drill. Other “casualties” are to be sent off to Kotzebue. The disaster simulated is supposed to rescue passengers from a cruise ship to a temporary sheltering facility that is to be set up near Tin City.
Vaden said that Nome is not scheduled to use its disaster response assets and that it is to facilitate the bureaucratic task of assisting the process to get the “passengers” through customs. Mayor Richard Beneville commented that he was very concerned about the lack of communications. “This is kind of unacceptable in the future as our port gets busier,” Beneville said. He asked Vaden to communicate to the state that Nome and the LEPC needs to be kept informed and that communications with state and federal agencies need to be streamlined.
Vaden pointed out that Nome has the resources, experience and knowledge to help make such drills and emergency response a success, but that the agencies continue to downplay Nome’s involvement. Charlie Lean agreed and said even though the Unified Command will spool up its plan once their resources can get here, but until then “it will come down to local assets responding.” “If we have a big plane crash or a ship sinking, we will be the first responders out there.” Lean commented.
Beneville emphasized the importance of being prepared, but also said that “we don't need to have the motor idling, but we need to know where the keys are.”