Updates to a local emergency operations plan are based partially on lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina response, with a focus on better coordination among local state and federal agencies
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Summit County is at a moderate risk for a domestic terror attack local officials say in a draft version of an updated emergency operations plan that’s up for discussion at a county commissioner work session this week (Feb. 1, 9:30 a.m. at the County Courthouse in Breckenridge).
The document uses the 1998 arson attack at Vail Ski Area as a precedent for those concerns, explaining that similar “land use, development and expansion plans in Summit County have a potential to illicit demonstration actions.” Other critical infrastructure in the county could also be a target for terrorism, according to the plan, which doesn’t identify any specific targets, citing a need for confidentiality.
While the likeliness of a terror attack can be debated, there are other very real emergency concerns that the updated plan addresses in the context of modern emergency response procedures, according to Joel Cochran, the county’s emergency services manager.
The existing plan dates back to the 1990s, and while the general public probably won’t notice any difference when the new version is approved, it will give local emergency responders more direction under federal guidelines that were developed after Hurricane Katrina, Cochran said. That includes greater coordination with state and federal agencies, as well as updated policies and procedures for local declarations of emergencies, he added.
According to Cochran, the existing plan is hazards based, while the new version is more response-focused, with an eye toward anticipating the potential consequences of a given hazard. Extra consideration was given to special needs populations, with the greatest concentration in Silverthorne. A special needs advisory committee has prepared a framework for identifying those populations and developing an appropriate response that includes functional accessibility and mobility.
The most likely scenarios for emergency situations stem from the county’s geographic setting, with a risk of wildfires, winter storms, flash flooding and flooding as a result of dam failure. A chairlift accident could also create a mass casualty incident that could exceed the capability and capacity of local emergency agencies.
Summit County responders also have to consider seasonally fluctuating populations. As of January 2010, the permanent population was estimated to be about 29,000, with the majority (about 17,000) living outside town boundaries in unincorporated parts of the county. That number can swell to about 160,000 people during the Christmas holidays and spring break, and drop by half during May, the traditional mud season when locals take off in droves.
The plan specifically considers the possibility of a multi-day winter storm closing highways and potentially leaving locals and visitors stranded.
From the draft plan:
“This could be a worst case for Summit County because of the potential for isolation and people being stranded in their homes for an extended period. Summit County depends upon regular 3-4 day restocking of commodities and consumables which are delivered on the Interstate system from Denver.”
Flooding is identified as the single greatest threat to populations and property, both from high water during spring runoff and the potential failure of any of the five high-hazard dams in the county.
Haz-mat incidents and infectious diseases are also identified as potential threats requiring a coordinated emergency response.
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