Water emergency drill helps officials prepareThe City of New Richmond conducted a tabletop emergency response exercise last week to test public servants and their readiness for emergencies.
The City of New Richmond conducted a tabletop emergency response exercise last week to test public servants and their readiness for emergencies.
Representatives from the city, law enforcement, emergency responders, St. Croix County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Westfields Hospital, media outlets and others were on hand to walk through a fake scenario and talk about the likely response of those involved in the emergency.
According to the scenario, a business working with the railroad in the spring of the year approaches the city for a permit to draw fresh water from the municipal system so they can try to control weed growth along the tracks.
As they hook up to the water system and start pumping water, Lakeside Foods down the road is also in full production and is also drawing a lot of water out of the city lines.
According to the fictional situation, the demand on the system causes the herbicide application truck to “backflow” into the city mains and Round-up is sucked into the municipal water lines.
Facilitator Jo Ann Wipperfurth, with Pre-Emergency Planning LLC, asked would happen if something like this would happen, compromising the water supply to hundreds of residents and businesses.
Bob Meyer, with the New Richmond Water Department, was determined to be the first to respond to the scene. He said the first action step would be to shut down the water system in the northern half of the city.
As the person in charge of the accident scene, Meyer determined that he would likely surrender command to the fire department or police so that he and his crew could concentrate on dealing with the water problem.
Meyer said the Wisconsin DNR would be notified of the situation and city officials would likely alert residents through emails, along with newspaper and radio announcements. Officials would also likely go door-to-door to warn residents not to use the water supply.
Fire Chief Jim VanderWyst and Police Chief Mark Samelstad said a hazardous waste management team from Eau Claire would likely be called in to determine what the contaminant is and the extent of the problem.
Police would provide for crowd control in case of gawkers, Samelstad said, and officers would treat the area like a crime scene. Officers would interview the company employees and gather as much information as possible related to the incident.
Samelstad said it’s likely that Emergency Government Director Chuck Mehls would be called in to operate an emergency operations center at the Civic Center to specifically address issues related to the incident.
Lakeside Foods would also be contacted, to ensure that city water isn’t used in the product until the system is checked and cleaned.
As the various city employees and area officials talked through the steps that would be taken, there was also discussion about the need to provide water to homes and businesses that were impacted by the city service being shut down.
Discussion also centered around what steps would be taken following the initial report, including the eventual restoration of the public drinking water system.
The exercise was funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of the project is to improve the security of the local water system and reduce the possibilities of terrorist attacks related to water systems.