GREEN RIVER, WYOMING — When an outbreak of illnesses in Green River, Wyoming. was traced to drinking water contamination, the state activated its emergency operations center. And the Wyoming Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WYOWARN) went into action. Fortunately, it was only a drill for WYOWARN which is a mutual aid and assistance network for water and wastewater utilities. The program prepares utilities to respond to emergencies by sharing personnel, tools and equipment.
WYOWARNrecently called on the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) for training and assistance in developing a functional exercise to test the effectiveness of the WYOWARN plan and its policies and procedures for protecting citizens and mitigating a crisis involving contamination of the drinking water supply.
The exercise followed DHS/FEMA-certified training in Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities. The training was offered under the Homeland Security National Training Program Cooperative Agreement.
The TEEX Infrastructure Training and Safety Institute customized the exercise to meet the needs of water and wastewater utilities in Wyoming. By area, Wyoming is the 10th largest state in the nation, but by population, Wyoming is the smallest state in the nation. Participating utilities ranged in size from approximately 20,000 customers to around 100 customers.
While the majority of the exercise was conducted in Green River, travel limitations required that most utilities participate remotely. Training was provided in-person at two locations, Green River and Cheyenne, while other utilities participated by phone/ webinar. The exercise was conducted largely via e-mail and phone with participants from Green River, Cheyenne, Gillette, Cody, Baggs, Dixon, Lander, Saratoga/Rawlins and Glenrock. One participant was stationed at a remote reservoir near the Continental Divide in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Conducting the exercise via e-mail and phone created real-world communication challenges. This identified communications weaknesses that resulted in additional recommendations for the WYOWARN Operations Plan that would not have been evident had all participants been in the same room.
TEEX trainers and exercise facilitators on-site in Wyoming included Mike Gavin, Jeff Dyer, Stanley States and Karen Tuttle. Other participants in Wyoming included the Sweetwater County Emergency Managers and staff as well as the Sweetwater County Public Health Department.
“We are very pleased with the exercise. The DHS/FEMA training provided prior to the exercise was relevant and useful during the exercise. TEEX did a great job,” said Brad Brooks, WYOWARN Chair.
Francis Melton of TEEX compiled an After-Action Review (AAR) that, based on the exercise, identifies areas for improvement in the WYOWARN operational plan. Before the review was released as a final copy, WYOWARN was already modifying their operations plan.
WARN is a national program of “utilities helping utilities” during a human caused or natural disasters. The concept began with three states; Texas, Florida and California; in 2006. As of April 2013, all 50 states have a WARN program. Canada has begun developing their WARN programs with two provinces with active programs.