LAMAR, Colorado -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Albuquerque District, hosted a tabletop exercise at Lamar Community College August 15, 2019.

The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate a variety of emergency and continuity plans USACE has developed and to test capabilities during a flooding emergency at John Martin Dam.

Objectives for the exercise focused on identifying key decision makers' priorities and responsibilities; assessing current warning procedures; and communicating and coordinating events to all stakeholders involved.

Emergency managers and first responders from the surrounding area and downstream, including Colorado, Kansas, and the National Weather Service were invited to participate in the exercise. Lt. Col. Robin Scott, deputy commander, USACE-Albuquerque District, and a variety of technical specialists in Dam Safety; Readiness and Contingency Operations; and Hydrology and Hydraulics also attended.

Steven Diaz, deputy director, USACE-Headquarters Readiness Support Center, developed situation pamphlets and a video scenario to enhance the exercise.

The exercise was divided into five phases. Each phase increased in intensity with higher flows into the reservoir and other factors leading up a simulated dam failure. The discussions focused on emergency notifications, immediate actions, decision points, and interagency coordination. Diaz, Shelley Dragomir, dam safety program manager, and Jeff Daniels, chief, Readiness and Contingency Operations, both from USACE-Albuquerque District, facilitated discussions after each phase.

USACE also provided inundation maps.

"Communication is critical," said Mark Yuska, chief, Operations, USACE-Albuquerque District. "It is the Corps' responsibility to let downstream customers know what the releases coming out of the dam are, in order to do the planning for possible evacuations."

The Arkansas River originates in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colorado and ends at the confluence of the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas. John Martin Dam lies approximately 300 miles downstream of Leadville. The dam was authorized by Congress June 24, 1940 and designated for flood control, irrigation, and recreation.

"Emergency planning information such as flood inundation maps as well as projected times of impact from a large release is the most valuable," said Steven Phillips, emergency manager, Hamilton County, Kansas. "Getting that information directly from the Corps of Engineers eliminates doubt in its credibility."

The closest populated area to be impacted from a failure of John Martin Dam is the city of Lamar, Colorado, located approximately 22 river miles south of the dam. However, the largest impacted area is Garden City, Kansas, located 151 miles downstream.

"The tabletop exercise was conducted in accordance with frequency requirements provided by Engineering Regulation 1110-2-1156 - every two years for John Martin Dam," said Dragomir. "The exercise provided a forum to communicate project risk to stakeholders along the Arkansas River while the scenario allowed participants to practice actions to take in the event of an emergency at the dam."

Tony Anderson, service hydrologist, National Weather Service, Durango office, also discussed the importance holding tabletop exercises.

"In the event of a dam break or other high impact event, the National Weather Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and all our state, local, and federal partners need to work together to save lives," Anderson said. "A smooth running response to an emergency does not just happen. It takes practice and training. I view tabletop exercises as one of our most important training opportunities. They allow us to gather with colleagues from our partner agencies to make sure we work as a team during high stress events," he said. "Tabletops are where we identify and correct flaws in our processes that might cause problems in our response."

After the exercise, all participants were invited to take a tour of John Martin Dam.