DUBOIS – Elected officials, members of local emergency response units and officials from Treasure Lake and other area officials were confronted with an emergency scenario on Wednesday night that could have drastic consequences should it ever happen.
Those gathered went through a number of scenarios revolving around a dam failure at Treasure Lake. Those gathered were given a brief amount of time to discuss what would happen should that occur.
The overall scenario took place on a Friday afternoon around 5 p.m. Persistent rains due to the remnant of a category 5 hurricane have hit the area for the last two weeks. Around 5:45 p.m. the National Weather Service issues a flood warning due to severe thunderstorms.
Paul Miller, Treasure Lake engineer stated that at that point a 24 hour watch would be enacted on all dams in Treasure Lake. In the event of an occurrence, Clearfield and Jefferson County Controls would be contacted as would the Department of Environmental Protection’s Northwest Regional Office. The community’s engineering service would also be contacted for consultation.
The next part of the scenario involved a report of a dam breach and what would happen from there. There was an indication that the county, as well as the Sandy Township Supervisors, DuBois City and area emergency responders would have been contacted by this point.
Other scenarios followed, such as reports of roads being flooded, reports of fires and other dam breaks. Treasure Lake has a total of four dams, according to Miller.
Part of the exercise called for those present to decide whether some reports were possible, and if so, how to respond or whether to respond at all.
As the exercise continued, one person present indicated that if a major dam breach did occur, then the real work would be in the recovery. The flooding would occur quickly after the dam breach. Steps were discussed to clear evacuate people ahead of such an occurrance.
Such a major breach could possibly follow Sandy Lick Creek and affect the DuBois Mall, major parts of Sandy Township as well as the City of DuBois and Interstate 80. Scott Fenden of DuBois Regional Medical Center stated that if such a break happened, patients would be unable to reach the hospital. He indicated that patients would most likely be treated at Elk Regional.
One scenario mentioned that major erosion was occurring along Sandy Lick Creek where I-80 crosses it. Those gathered discussed the possibility of the interstate being damaged and when the interstate would have to be closed to avoid serious injuries to passengers.
Another issue that responders had to consider included how to reach Treasure Lake in the event of a flood. The main gate would be unreachable, so responders would have to go through a back gate. Other complications included power outages, phones being down and the flooding of businesses that have major chemicals on-site.
While the National Guard was discussed as one option of help, Jerry Pollock, deputy director of the Clearfield County Emergency Management Agency said that it takes 36 to 72 hours for state resources to arrive. Those gathered also had to look at the possibility that other areas may also be facing flooding issues and had to consider where they would have to turn to for help.
“When Sam Marrara (Sandy Township EMA Director) and I started talking about this … we had no idea how catastrophic it could be,” said Miller near the end of the exercise.
When asked whether their flood plans were sufficient, those gathered said they would work, but that they need to be updated. The last time the emergency action plan for dams in Treasure Lake was updated was in 1994.
Pollock stated that it is not uncommon for those plans to take so long to update. He said that when he began working with the county in 2002 he began to work with the Treasure Lake plan. Pollock also said that it takes so long to get a plan updated because of all of the different agencies and services that have to check off on it.
Pollock said that the exercise was part of the process to get the plan updated.
“I think it was a great program,” said Treasure Lake General Manager Matt Begley. He said that Treasure Lake is a great asset to the area, but that it also poses a great danger to the area as well in such a scenario.
Begley said that it was great to get everyone together to discuss disaster planning.