Last Updated on April 17, 2022 by Cass County Emergency Management Agency

Clymers, IN – On a brisk Thursday morning a semi carrying an unknown substance rolls over at the intersection of the Heartland Highway and County Road 300 South. Traffic is blocked, the condition of the driver is unknown and a reddish brown substance is spread across the highway.

Thankfully, it was all just an exercise.

29 responders from a variety of agencies as well as community partners gathered at the Clymers Fire Department on the evening of April 14 to participate in the annual Cass County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Exercise. The LEPC, in concert with Emergency Management Agency (EMA) conducts hazard identification, vulnerability analysis and risk assessment activities for chemical emergencies within the county. The annual exercise is a state requirement to test local plans, identify capacity gaps and identify action items in areas of planning, equipment, training and organization.

Rocky Buffum, Chairman for the Local Emergency Planning Committee and Director of the Cass County Emergency Management Agency, was the facilitator for this year’s exercise. “A lot of work goes into making these happen.

-Before the exercise there are multiple meetings with key response partners, industry representatives, and subject matter experts to put together a plausible scenario that provides a substantive test for the jurisdiction.

-On the day of the exercise we have Evaluators from outside the jurisdiction who “grade” the response and provide feedback to drive further planning. This year’s evaluators included federal partners as well as EMA Directors from neighboring jurisdictions

-Following the exercise, an After Action Report/Improvement Plan (AAR/IP) Document is put together that identifies strengths as well as areas for improvement. Areas for improvement are tied to target completion dates and in most cases we aim to have issues addressed before the next exercise. Occasionally, larger or more complex issues might take multiple years to address. Most items are taken care of in weeks or months. ”

Exercises are conducted according to the criteria of the federal Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and are reviewed and approved by staff of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

The LEPC takes charge in putting an exercise planning committee together. Responders participate and provide feedback. That feedback, along with evaluator feedback, comes back to the LEPC and is utilized to improve plans and fill capacity gaps for emergency response.

Buffum indicated one of his goals is more engagement of the many volunteer response organizations in the county that would be first due in many cases. That is why this year’s exercise was held in the evening instead of during the day. “We have a lot of knowledgeable and dedicated responders with good input to provide, but it’s hard for them to take time off work for an exercise. We want to capture their feedback and incorporate it into our planning.”

Buffum indicated he was excited for the number of participants and organizations represented this year. “Later in the exercise it was revealed the substance spilled was Electric Arc Furnace Dust, a relatively new hazard to the community that will be traveling through all of the county fire departments jurisdictions. It is good to come together, understand the risk and discuss ways to keep our responders and community safe if an incident occurs.” Buffum indicated while most of the resources needed already exist in the community, there was good discussion on how to organize those resources and make mobilization happen faster. “You don’t have everything on your typical first responding fire truck that is needed, but we have materials at the EMA Office as well as with other partners that can respond when called. Identifying the need for the specialized resources and calling them early can make a big difference.” Some of the items needed would be large tarps or plastic sheeting to stop the product from blowing over a larger area until a cleanup contractor can respond to the scene. “The cleanup is relatively simple, but it requires things such as vacuum trucks responding from out of town vendors. Responders don’t have to pick up the mess, but action is needed to contain it until contractors can make it to the scene.” This is a fairly standard flow of events in hazardous material incident response.

Buffum also stressed the use of Personal Protective Equipment by responders. “Generally it isn’t going to create an immediate health issue, but handling the material without PPE could cause issues that show up down the road. Taking a little extra time to don appropriate PPE can make a huge difference.”

Buffum is looking forward to the finalized Improvement Plan and getting started on plan revisions as well as further training and actions to make the overall system better. “While the exercise focuses on one hazard, many of the lessons will be applicable to many or in some cases all hazards we might be called on to respond to as a county.”

Participating organizations included:

Carroll County Emergency Management Agency

Cass County Communication Network

Cass County Emergency Management Agency

Cass County Emergency Medical Services

Cass County Fire District 1

Cass County Firefighters Association

Cass County Sheriff’s Department  

Clymers Clinton Township Fire Department

Grissom Air Reserve Base Emergency Management

Harrison Township Fire Department Lucerne

Logansport Fire Department

Logansport Memorial Hospital

New Waverly Fire Department

Twelve Mile Fire Department

Walton Community Fire Department

WSP Cass County

Young America Fire Department

SOURCE: News release from Cass County Emergency Management Agency