“This is something we have never done in our county before,” Capt. Robert Woodford of the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office said as he walked across the parking lot at the new Ohio Division of Watercraft facility near the Greenup Dam. “As we know, around the world, it is something that is picking up speed and happening more often, and we’re here to get prepared for such a thing.”
Scioto County is one of five counties that had been asked to participate along with state and federal agencies simulating an earthquake centered on the New Madrid Fault in the St. Louis area of Missouri.
“Within 1.25 seconds, the earthquake in that area reaches the Cincinnati area and beyond,” said Larry Dale Mullins, public information officer for the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency. “So that’s the first earthquake we have. And, of course that also damages some buildings in the Cincinnati area and also our area. The original earthquake is a 7.7. So what happened in the scenario we had to evacuate our standard EOC (Emergency Operations Center) on Sixth Street and move up here (Greenup Dam) as a secondary.”
Mullins said the normal secondary location away from the LIFE headquarters, is the Scioto County Courthouse, but something happened in the scenario to make that impossible.
“They are looking at all the buildings of a substantial size to see if they are damaged, to make sure they’re not going to collapse or anything like that,” Mullins said. “So we re-located up here to the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) location here at the Greenup Dam, which tests our ability to move from one place to another as the scenario plays out.”
At 2 p.m., another earthquake, this one 5.7-magnitude, centered around Cincinnati strikes and causes substantial damage to the Cincinnati area.
“The earthquake has caused a sinkhole, and that has caused a rail car to overturn in the yard and now it is leaking,” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said, standing about 200 yards from the affected railroad car. “It’s leaking anhydrous ammonia. But for the purpose of the drill the teams will be coming in like they would any other incident with a chemical release in the rail yard.”
The crew arrived and stood at a distance assessing the situation before going in to deal with the leak.
“All of the state, local and federal entities have been pulled together testing their response to this kind of scenario,” Mullins said. “It is not impossible that it could happen. From time to time we have tremors here. But we are a part of the New Madrid Fault, which is actually the biggest fault in the United States.”
The various agencies involved were given latitude to work through the events of the day to learn about their effectiveness.
“Everybody goes into the scenario thinking what their role might be,” Mullins said. “But as the play starts it throws them curves and then it will start the thinking process, so people think, ‘if this happened then how would we react?’ For example, when we got up here we found out we couldn’t get on the Internet. So when we come up here again we will solve that problem.”
Networking was another key to the exercise.
“These exercises play into that,” Mullins said. “Maybe someone sitting across the table would offer a resource one agency would need. By sitting across from somebody and putting a name and a face together, then you know that person.”
The agencies all came together at the end of the day for a debriefing and critiquing to learn strengths and weaknesses, and those involved know the importance of being prepared.
“It’s not impossible, and hopefully it’s not likely,” Mullins said.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or email@example.com.