A lightly loaded tanker truck carrying a flammable liquid was knocked over on the southwest edge of Hastings by a wind gust Tuesday afternoon that led to a quickly spreading fire.
That was the scenario discussed as part of a tabletop exercise during the quarterly meeting of the Adams County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Tuesday at the Whelan Energy Center conference room.
While there was no such fire, it could happen. That’s why LEPC chairman Phil Beda crafted the scenario.
He wanted to engage the 20 or so committee representatives from local businesses and government agencies present at Tuesday’s meeting about how such a fire would affect them and what resources they could provide.
The committee has about 30 members all together and is looking for more.
Beda, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Hastings, used the Camp Fire in California from November 2018, which destroyed the town of Paradise, as a model for the exercise. Paradise had a population of around 27,000.
“Basically what happened is the fire moved on the town so fast firefighters went from firefighting to evacuating the town and then just let the town go,” he told his fellow committee members. “Granted we don’t have the trees they do or the pine forests or stuff like that, but I thought this was a pretty good scenario for us.”
In the scenario Beda presented, as was the case in Paradise, the fire occurred when the area had been hot and dry for six weeks after a wet summer. In Beda’s scenario, the fire occurred Oct. 1.
“We’re very green, but if we were to go into drought conditions later this summer, this fall, this could be a potential area where maybe part of the town could be affected by a fire,” he said.
With corn drying out in early October in Nebraska, Beda thought it could be good fuel for a wild fire.
“I just felt there’s a pretty good corollary, so we could at least practice that,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “When I build these exercises, I try to have everybody have some involvement or some type of buy in too it.”
Within the Adams County Local Emergency Planning Committee there are hundreds of years of experience in everything from fire fighting to various forms of industry.
“We try to get that knowledge funneled down to say how we would attack that problem,” he said.
In creating a scenario, Beda tries to look one season ahead. For instance, at the Local Emergency Planning Committee’s next meeting on Oct. 15, the scenario may involve winter weather, such as a blizzard.
The scenarios aren’t always weather related. One past exercise involved a two-week power outage caused by a terroristic attack.
“I try to bring in other scenarios not just your standard tornado, thunderstorm type of thing,” he said. “I try to bring other things that could affect the community.”
The Adams County Local Emergency Planning Committee was nominated for an award to be announced at the 2019 Region 7 LEPC conference, Aug. 7-10 in Omaha.
Dawna Whitcomb, administrative assistant for Adams County Emergency Management and Adams County LEPC secretary, is among committee members who will attend that conference.
She said the committee has grown quite a bit during the six years she’s been part of it.
“We’re trying to get more people involved because it’s not necessarily just the hazardous part any more,” she said. “We’re really trying to do an all-hazard approach. Some of these are weather related that aren’t necessarily hazardous, but it’s something we need to be thinking about because it could potentially turn into a hazardous disaster. We tried to reach out and get as many community members on board as possible. We still are looking. We’re always looking for people to come in and step in.”
Anyone interested in joining the Adams County Local Emergency Planning Committee should contact Whitcomb at email@example.com or 402-461-2360 to fill out an application.