Tim Schleper and Rick Greten, co-coordinators of the Clinton/Washington County LEPC conducted a tabletop exercise that simulated an earthquake with an epicenter in Hoffman.
Two Meetings Address Plans For Emergencies
By Alex Haglund
There were two events in Washington County during the same week that dealt with natural gas and when things go very, very wrong.
The first was a tabletop exercise held by the Clinton/Washington County Local Emergency Planning Committee at Kretzer’s Grill in Hoyleton on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 20.
The second was the City of Nashville’s annual gas emergency meeting, held on the evening of Thursday, March 22 in the basement of the Nashville American Legion.
May 2, 2018 is a warm day, but things get very hot, very quickly for local emergency responders and for the whole region – once a 6.4 magnitude earthquake happens, with its epicenter just southwest of Hoffman.
This was the scenario for the LEPC’s tabletop exercise, and residents should count themselves lucky that it’s just a scenario, because things get very messy, very quickly.
While Hoffman does not have a large population – just over 500 people, they do have a rather large amount of natural gas mains: two 36-inch and one 30-inch lines which have an operating pressure of more than 800 psi run from just south of Chicago down to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a 24-inch line running east to west with a pressure of about 1,000 psi.
The scenario stated that a loud, roaring sound could be heard by residents and that means it was likely that this theoretical earthquake ruptured one of the 30-inch lines near Sassafras Road and County Highway 24, north of Hoyleton.
In charge of this exercise were Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Directors Rick Greten, of Washington County, and Tim Schleper, of Clinton County. They were assisted by Stanley Krushas, the coordinator for Region 8 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA).
In addition to members of the LEPC, also attending were personnel representing the National Gas Pipeline (NGPL) or Kinder-Morgan, the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), the American Red Cross, and numerous members of the Centralia Emergency Services Disaster Agency (ESDA), their equivalent to an EMA. Centralia (Marion County, anyway) is in a different IEMA Region than Clinton and Washington Counties, but if there were an earthquake in Hoffman, it sure would be of concern to Centralia emergency responders as much as anywhere else.
Linda Drumwright, Greten’s assistant was the one who did most of the planning of the scenario, including the creation of visual aids and resources, like a detailed map of the two counties together which she made. This was Drumwright’s first time planning a scenario, and both Greten and Schleper complimented the work she did.
“The State of Illinois is always asking for more and more things out of offices like ours,” said Greten. “Linda, with her computer skills and other abilities, sure does make things like putting this exercise together a whole lot easier.”
This also means that all the bad news that was going on in this scenario came largely from Drumwright, and it didn’t stop with the gas main breakage. Other woes that befell the area included:
• IL 161 buckled and broke, making it impassable.
• A train engine collided with overpass support at IL 127 just north of 161. Ten cars, including tank cars were thrown from the tracks, and the engineer was injured, unconscious and possibly dead.
• A semi truck overturned on 127, blocking the road. The driver had seen a cell tower collapse and when calling for help, other motorist had to backtrack to get a signal.
• There was significant damage to Carlyle Dam. The Army Corps of Engineers was monitoring the situation, but a full breach was a possibility.
• Around 800 hogs escaped from a breeder along 127 due to fire in the buildings. (This part of the scenario occurred before the meal orders had arrived at Kretzer’s and many in attendance said that the only bright side in this scenario would be the proximity of the “Country Bob’s” headquarters).
• Numerous home fires, traffic accidents and other related issues were overwhelming or would soon overwhelm local emergency services.
“It’s going to be ‘do what you can’ on a local basis until help from above can arrive,” Krushas said. “There’s going to be a period, 24, 48 hours, where you’re going to be scrambling.”
“The sad thing is,” said Greten, talking about the earthquake, “This really could happen here.”
“One thing that’s clear though,” said Greten. “You gotta have a plan.”
Much of the exercise was just devoted to going through some of these “what-ifs?” Those in attendance were asked about their plans, preparations and their priorities and concerns. Along with having plans in place, administratively, a large amount of importance was placed on having any memorandum of understandings, agreements for interagency and inter-area cooperation, in place long before you might need it.
In the end though, a tabletop exercise like this one isn’t about resolution– if there’s an earthquake in Hoffman breaking gaslines and freeing hogs, there might be a best solution to the scenario, but there probably won’t be a happy one.
Instead, it’s just a chance for those who might be trying to respond to something like this a chance to run themselves through the paces, even if only in a mental sense, and hope, like heck, that they don’t have to use the plans that they have made.
Gas Emergency Meeting
The City of Nashville’s annual gas emergency meeting covered items that, while not as catastrophic as the earthquake scenario above, were perhaps even more frightening. This was because the events discussed and covered at this meeting actually had happened already, and worse, most of them were entirely preventable.
If there was any singular theme or warning to come out of the meeting, it was, if a person, business or other entity is going to dig or excavate, call JULIE, the Illinois One-Call System (811 or 1-800-892-0123) first and get the important lines marked. If you are in any doubt at all, call Nashville Public Works too – (618) 327-8918.
The evening’s presentation was given by C. Lindsey Enloe, a consulting Engineer with USDI, a natural gas engineering and utility services company.
Almost any of the multiple scenarios covered by Enloe in his presentation could have been prevented with proper communications ahead of time. In some cases, like a high pressure main ruptured by farmers doing tiling in Dixon in December of last year, fatalities resulted from situations which would not have happened had a call to JULIE been made.
“Tiling is dangerous work,” Enloe said, “when it’s done near high-pressure gas lines, when it’s done near electrical lines.”
“Just be aware,” Enloe said to the audience, many of whom were city utility workers or volunteer firefighters, “that situation could happen within your fire district.”
The Dixon incident resulted in the deaths of two farmers, a father and son, who struck the line. In an incident in Manner Township, Pa., though, the fatality wasn’t the person who made the error, but a gas company worker who responded to the incident.
While the meeting was centered around gas and gas dangers, many of the same warnings for gas lines can be applied to electrical and communications lines as well. While gas line damage can be the most dramatic by far, electrical and communications lines being cut can be dangerous too, and sometimes even more costly – like after the only electrical transmission line to the Outer Banks Islands in North Carolina was cut due to a construction error.
In Nashville, any excavation requires a permit, which would then result in some level of oversight from the City Utilities Department.
“Any questions, you’ve got to call,” Enloe said. “and here in Nashville, you’ve got to call the utilities department.”
“Pipelines demand respect and care,” said one of the narrators in a video played by Enloe. Another stated that if there is a problem, “Don’t bury an accident, own it, report it and deal with it.”
In the end though, the best advice is the advice that was brought up again and again . Before you dig, call. If you’re in doubt call. If there is the slightest possibility that you might hit something that isn’t dirt, rocks or roots, call.