Routt County officials practice for nightmare scenario | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County officials practice for nightmare scenario

Steamboat Springs City Council member, Kathi Meyer speaks during a mock press conference Wednesday at the Routt County Justice Center. Next to Meyer are, from left, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighter John Rockwood, Routt County Emergency Management Director David "Mo" DeMorat, Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman and Mike Lane, who is the public information officer for the city of Steamboat. (Photo by Matt Stensland)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It is not fun to think of the nightmare disasters that could hit Routt County, but it is necessary to prepare for them.

Last year, local officials practiced what to do if there was a breach of the Stagecoach dam.

On Wednesday, they practiced what to do if a tanker truck carrying sulfuric acid caught on fire.

The scenario was that a truck collided with a vehicle and caught fire at U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

A plume from the fire started to drift with the wind and headed directly toward Steamboat Springs.

Emergency responders were notified of the mock incident, and the scenario started.

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A basement room at the Routt County Justice Center was turned into an emergency operations center, and the people trained to staff the center responded.

A test message was sent to Routt County residents around 9 a.m. through the county's Everbridge emergency notification system.

If there was really toxic gas headed toward Steamboat, the message would have instructed people to seek shelter in place.

One of the goals of the exercise was to test the Everbridge system and see if there were any problems.

The county discovered a problem with the test message appearing on televisions and radio stations, and they quickly solved the problem.

"That's part of the reason why you do these kinds of tests," Emergency Communications Manager Jason Nettles said.

The county has been holding a campaign to try and get more people signed up for the emergency alerts.

The county currently has about 10,000 contacts in the system, and 324 people have joined since Aug. 1.

"I'm pretty pleased with the number of people that signed up," Nettles said.

Those people who do not live in Routt County but happened to be in the county on Wednesday morning should have also received the test message.

The county is trying to gauge the effectiveness of the emergency alert system and is asking both visitors and residents to complete a survey at co.routt.co.us.

At the end of the day, those at the scenario held a mock press conference with people who helped manage the event during the day, including Steamboat Springs City Council member Kathi Meyer, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighter John Rockwood and Scott Cowman, who is the county's director of Environmental Health.

There were representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency observing and evaluating the exercise.

Routt County Emergency Management put together the exercise, which went smoother than last year as the staff members get more practice managing an incident.

There were also improvements in wireless internet and communications. There was now a strong cellphone signal in the basement of the Justice Center.

"I definitely think there is some improvement from last year," Emergency Management Director David "Mo" DeMorat said. "We're making progress."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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