CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dozens of participants from over 20 state, federal and local emergency response agencies gathered at West Virginia American Water Company on Thursday for an emergency preparedness functional exercise.
The drill evaluated the contingency and communication plans in a mock contamination scenario in a functional exercise. Erica Pauken, Source Water Protection State Lead for West Virginia American Water Company (WVAWC) said the exercises are annually but they have increased with complexity every year.
“We are testing our communications procedures as oppose to a tabletop exercise, people around the table going through the events just talking through it, not responding to it,” she said.
Pauken added this was the first year of the exercise with this increased functional exercise scale. Horsley Witten Group, a contractor with WVAWC, helped put on the event and has worked with the organization for several years.
Senior Planner for the group, Will Keefer, said there were challenges with the exercise.
“We had several hundred emails going by with people communicating with each other,” he said.
“We had a very good idea of what was happening at a high level and also we coordinated with the planning team to make sure they aren’t having any issues or challenges.”
WVAWC’s emergency response plans were thrown into the spotlight in 2014 during the Elk River chemical spill. Many citizens criticized the company, believing they did not have the fastest response in shutting off the water.
Keefer said those who participated in the drill, which included the City of Charleston, Kanawha County Emergency Management, Putnam County Emergency Management, Bureau of Public Health, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Guard, took it very seriously.
“They were willing to be challenged, ask tough questions of themselves to help them identify the most important things to focus on in the future to ensure that West Virginia American Water is prepared for any incident they might encounter,” he said.
The exercise lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the WVAWC headquarters in Charleston. All communications made during this exercise included radio, phone, written, and electronic like email.
Pauken said good things come out of the drills every year but there are still areas of improvement.
“I see a lot of strengths in our emergency response plans in implementing those and the procedures we have in place. I’m curious to see what other people’s perspectives are on the outside. I think we did a really good job tapping into multiple resources and agencies,” she said.
“Just the communications process, realizing we put a lot of work into building those relationships and I think they are paying off.”