The Washington National Guard, tribal emergency managers and other first responders tested their disaster response capabilities Oct. 8 in an exercise involving the simulated leak of an unknown substance from a tanker truck near a school.
Some 80 people from multiple agencies participated in the tabletop exercise Oct. 8 at the Pend Oreille Pavilion in Airway Heights. The one-day event, which involved a hypothetical hazardous waste spill on the Colville Indian Reservation, was designed and led by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Emergency Management Office with support from the Washington Military Department.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bill Elliott, tribal liaison with the Washington State Guard, said the exercise tested the Tribes’ emergency management plan.
“Evergreen Spill was unique as it was designed to test operations under the command and direction of Tribal Emergency Management and provide an opportunity for all the non-Tribal agencies participating in this exercise to examine their own processes while operating in the unique jurisdictional, logistical and governance environment of Indian country,” he said.
The Washington Emergency Management Division and Washington State Guard helped the Colville Tribe plan the exercise.
“We helped develop this scenario from a simple spill incident into an accident that could also pose a threat to the nearby river system, necessitating the involvement of environmental experts and natural resource actions to contain this incident,” said Elliott.
EMD also provided logistical support, including securing a venue for the participants.
“During my onsite visits to the tribes, support for training and exercise opportunities is a common concern expressed by the Tribal Emergency Managers. The Tribal EMs typically have minimal resources and wear many hats of varying responsibilities, so being creative and getting support and working with their neighbors is critical,” said Erik Riske, tribal liaison for EMD. “Having these exercises not only improves the tribe’s emergency management posture but also strengthens relationships with other entities, making us all better neighbors.”
The Washington National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team, Homeland Response Force and Joint Staff leadership worked alongside representatives from federal, state and tribal agencies to better understand the role the Guard could play in an incident on tribal land.
“Exercises like Evergreen Spill are absolutely critical for the Washington National Guard/WMD and our state, local, tribal and territorial civilian partners,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth Borchers, director of the joint staff, Washington National Guard. “It’s crucial that we take these opportunities to learn lessons and build partnerships’ left of boom,’ or before an incident actually occurs. That way, when crises do happen, we have the opportunity to leverage those relationships and lessons learned for a better outcome for the citizens we serve.”
In addition to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kalispell and Spokane Tribes participated in this exercise. The Squaxin Island, Tulalip, and Makah Tribes attended to learn how they might conduct similar exercises in the western half of Washington.
Elliott said the exercise addressed jurisdictional, legal and civil issues.
“Both the WMD and Tribes learned about resources available to assist when responding to a Tribal request for assistance,” he said. “Additionally, this exercise demonstrated a sincere willingness of the WMD, and all the other participating agencies, to work with the 29 federally recognized Tribes of Washington.”