Here’s the situation: A fire that started on the railroad tracks south of State Route 14, between Dock Grade and the White Salmon River, has jumped the highway and is now working its way up the White Salmon bluff toward numerous homes. Are local emergency responders ready to work together to take on such a major event?
That’s a question officials from local emergency responders (fire, police, and medical) will put to themselves today when they meet for a discussion-based exercise at the Husum Fire Station that will seek to create a template for agencies responding to a major fire event.
“This is a tabletop exercise where all of the participants join in on a problem-solving/policy-making effort in what each agency will do if an event of a wildfire that starts on the railroad tracks and travels up the bluff toward residences in White Salmon,” said Ed Powell, director of Klickitat County’s Department of Emergency Management. “We will be solving problems such as communication, responsibilities for each agency, staging, traffic control and re-routing, media relations, and so forth.”
Powell added, “By pre-planning, agencies can get the job done better, and faster, with as little confusion as possible.”
According to the State Route 14 Emergency Response Tabletop Exercise Situation Manual, one purpose of the training session is to identify flaws and/or procedures that need to be updated or changed in order to accommodate new information gathered during the exercise.
The scenario of a wildfire running up the bluff, threatening homes, and shutting down both lanes of traffic, is not a new one for local emergency response agencies.
The introduction to the situation manual notes, “Railroad fires have plagued local fire response agencies since the first train ran in Klickitat County. Over the years, technology and safety measures initiated by the railroad industry has significantly reduced the amount of fires caused by rolling trains...Over the years there have been numerous fires that have started on or near the tracks, crossed State Route 14 and up the slope toward residences on the bluff in White Salmon, and we must assume that there is a likelihood that it will happen again.”
Tracy Wyckoff, chief of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, said training exercises like the one planned for Thursday “are necessary to show what resources we have to assist one another in the time of need.”
“Even in fire situations, the police assist with manpower even if it is just traffic control for the incident,” Wyckoff said. “As far as what is gained by attending, we are able to put faces with names, find out what the game plan is for critical incidents, and know what is available for us to use in an incident. We get an idea of what will and will not, and what resources we need to obtain to make sure we are able to provide the best possible assistance to the community in a crisis situation.”
In recent years, federal and state emergency management agencies have steered the focus of emergency management toward a capabilities-based planning approach, which centers on “planning under uncertainty, since the next danger or disaster can never be forecast with complete accuracy.”
Capabilities-based planning assumes an all-hazards approach to planning and preparation to build capabilities that can be applied to a wide range of incidents.
“This approach identifies gaps in the current capabilities and focuses efforts on identifying and developing priority capabilities and tasks” for responding agencies, the situation manual notes.