HOPE FOR THE BEST, PLAN FOR THE WORST Op-ed by Anne Levy,

HOPE FOR THE BEST, PLAN FOR THE WORST
Op-ed by Anne Levy, Valley City Herald
Valley City has had a great year, growing on a number of fronts. But all of our growth and success exists in the shadow of the recent past, a case of recent wounds slowly healing and fading to scars.
No one who was in Valley City two years ago will ever forget the catastrophic derailment of an oil-tanker train and the subsequent explosion and fire. While fatalities were fewer than they could have been, six residents of our city lost their lives. Nearly two hundred were hospitalized, and much of the city was temporarily evacuated. Several homes near the railroad tracks were leveled, and our water supply was contaminated by oil leakage for several months.
Life has resumed, and we have begun to thrive again, in our fashion. But the nagging feeling recurs: When the disaster struck, were our institutions properly prepared? No one wakes up in the morning expecting a train derailment, of course. But responsible institutions think about things that could go wrong within the realm of possibility, and make a plan. Many individuals performed brave, inspired, selfless service in the chaos of the derailment, but it is clear in retrospect that much of the work was improvised, disorganized, and often circular or at cross-purposes.
For the first two hours of the crisis, the Valley City Fire Department was caught unprepared by the damage to the city water supply caused by the explosion, which was more extensive than had been considered possible. The Fire and Police departments had trouble coordinating radio communications, and a clear chain of command at the scene between departments was painfully slow to emerge. The hospital was woefully understaffed for the first six hours of the crisis, taking far too long to find a way to bring additional staff and resources onto the scene. The city health department was unacceptably dilatory in testing the municipal water supply for contaminants.
A call from the Herald’s offices to City Hall confirmed that the city’s disaster plan is over a decade old, and is unfortunately myopic both in the events it considers as possible disasters and in the agencies it plans for. It is of utmost importance to the future of our city that this plan be revised, revisited, and expanded. All city agencies should review their own disaster plans and coordinate with the city for a master plan. The same goes for crucial non-government agencies, most especially the Valley City Regional Hospital. Of course, this all exists in the shadow of budget cuts both at city hall and the hospital.
The sun is shining today, without a cloud in the sky. This is the time to make sure we are ready for the next storm, so to speak, to hit our city. No one knows what the next crisis will be or when it will come. But we can count on the fact that no one will get up that morning expecting it.