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Spill response gets passing grade

The local and regional response to a dangerous goods spill on July 10 generally went well, but there were also some lessons learned

The local and regional response to a dangerous goods spill on July 10 generally went well, but there were also some lessons learned.

That was the message from Ron Storie, emergency services supervisor with Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Following the incident the Times published a letter to the editor from Vavenby resident Joe Short. In the letter Short asked that small communities be more involved in disaster planning.

“Joe Short wrote a good letter. He had a point,” said Storie.

The problem seemed to mainly be a communication issue, the TNRD official felt. The regional district and District of Clearwater had a 1-800 number set up fairly soon after the crash. However, it appears no one from Vavenby used the number to let those organizing the response to the disaster know what was happening in that community.

In fact, what was happening was travelers held up on the highway overwhelmed the small community.

Possibly better use could have been made of organizations such as Vavenby Volunteer Fire Department to coordinate things, Stories said.

Volunteers in Vavenby took it upon themselves to direct some of the traffic south through Adams Lake Forest Service Road.

For liability reasons, such a step normally isn’t taken before a government vehicle has driven the route and ensured that it is safe, Storie said.

Overall, though, Storie was pleased with the way the people of Vavenby responded to and helped those stranded by the incident.

“Everything you’d expect a small community to do, they did,” he said.

Difficulties also developed in Little Fort as a result of the long highway closure, Storie reported.

There, truckers parked in places that some local residents found inappropriate.

With police resources tied up in responding to the main incident, possibly commercial vehicle inspectors could have been used to help sort things out, the TNRD official suggested.

“A uniform lends a certain authority,” he observed.

On the other hand, communication within the disaster response team and with the outside world generally went well, Storie felt.

Quite a few agencies were involved, including RCMP, Clearwater Volunteer Fire Department, BC Ambulance Service, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Argo Road Maintenance, Provincial Emergency Program, Emergency Coordination Center, and Interior Health.

A conference call was set up that allowed all those involved to be aware of what was going on.

Clearwater mayor John Harwood conducted 16 media interviews that afternoon and evening.

No one needed to be evacuated and no State of Local Emergency was declared.

A debriefing held after the incident came up with six lessons learned:

1. Open the teleconference line as early as possible to disseminate information for all agencies, residents and for media;

2. Combat misinformation as soon as possible;

3. Pay attention to influx of people (travelers and commercial) on adjacent communities (use CVSE);

4.  Start to prepare now for the inevitable incident in the area without cellphone coverage;

5. Exercises do improve response; and

6. Get to know your team.

According to Clearwater RCMP, the incident occurred after the driver of a van attempted to do a U-turn in front of an overtaking semi. No one was seriously injured in the crash, but the semi rolled onto its side and spilled a quantity of acid into the ditch. The crash occurred on Highway 5 just east of Raft River Bridge.

The spill turned out to be contained to where it happened, but the highway was shut down from before noon until about 2 a.m. the following day.