Maintaining a state of readiness to implement an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP) is critical to mitigating the impact of dam failure. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has integrated an all-hazards emergency management approach with its Dam Safety Program; capturing key elements within a managed system to ensure that a state of readiness is maintained, both within the organization as well as with stakeholders and community first responders. The Program includes routine elements of stakeholder meetings, call tests, tabletop and full-scale exercises, all built around a process that encompasses continuous improvement to the response and recovery capabilities.

Engaging local communities in the development of emergency exercises has improved their awareness of potential hazards resulting from dam failures and served to build relationships which will be critical to the response should it be required during a real event. The exercises carried out by OPG have played an important role in identifying deficiencies in processes, communication protocols and technical resources while building core competencies in emergency response skills.

While each exercise would have specific lessons learned, there are some general items that are useful to list for those entering the exercise design process based on OPG’s experience in conducting exercises since the late 1990’s;

  • Build Up – Exercises are intended to test the plan, not the people. In order for exercises to be successful, staff need to be sufficiently prepared to participate. By first conducting a functional exercise without preparation, staff may feel discouraged and fail to appreciate the value of conducting the exercise. In order to encourage success, staff must be provided with adequate training for their role in emergency response and the overall processes outlined in the EPRP. Following the training, tabletop exercises should be used to build confidence and understanding of the roles. The Players Handbook has also proven to be a valuable tool to set the context for participation in the exercise.
  • Design Team Engagement – In order to ensure a realistic and comprehensive exercise scenario, it is necessary to engage staff with a broad spectrum of expertise from across the organization. For example, if an exercise is based on a hydrologic event, it may beneficial to include a hydro-technical engineer to analyze flow data.
  • Engaging the “B Team” – though the primary instinct is that the response will be carried out by the “A Team”, circumstances during an actual event may dictate that others may be called upon to fill a role. Tabletops and Functional Exercises provide prime opportunities to build depth in the response organization by introducing “B Team” members as Evaluators or Observers, or allowing a more experienced responder to provide coaching during the event. Having additional staff trained and comfortable in emergency response builds organizational resiliency.

Ref. Emergency Action Planning – In Action: Practices and Lessons Learned at OPG; Bennett and Serota – CDA Banff 2014