Multi-agency workgroup explores potential disaster scenarios

Published Dec. 18, 2014

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District will form a working group to address issues that could potentially arise on the Ohio River in an emergency scenario, such as an earthquake on the New Madrid fault, or other natural disasters.

The Emergency Operations Center hosted a meeting in early December to brainstorm and articulate some examples of consequences of a potential natural disaster. Representatives from agencies such as Kentucky Emergency Management, the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Transportation (federal and state) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are government candidates for the working group. Industry groups, barge associations and port authorities would also be important stakeholders in the planning process.

Attendees discussed different scenarios such as keeping the navigable channel open or clearing the channel, which in itself could take months, the group agreed, depending on the natural disaster; having an emergency response plan for navigation; and clearing a collapsed bridge out of the channel.

“If the river shut down (in an emergency), lost revenue equals $1.2 billion,” said Don Walker, emergency operations.

Walker said the Corps’ goals would be to clear the navigation channel, open the locks and clear the river.

As with a flood, Corps personnel would likely deploy to the State of Kentucky Emergency Operations Center when it would be activated in a New Madrid earthquake.

Barry Vessels, operations, said, “We would use equipment to move material; the river would readjust.” Vessels and his cadre have sophisticated river mapping systems which are used widely and would be helpful during an emergency.

Walker said this will be the first meeting that will initiate a plan and move it forward.

“It’s a good start,” he said.