When inundating rains submerged the lake area in early August, residents got a broader view of what it takes to respond to an emergency.
But what if it had been worse?
Say the rains in August — which straddled the I-44 corridor south of the Lake of the Ozarks — shifted north, saturating the heart of the lake area, pounding upstream locations near Harry S. Truman Reservoir. What if — hypothetically — a rising pool of water caused seepage through the Truman Dam, eventually leading to a dam failure? What would happen when a wave of water, carrying loose docks, unmoored vessels and miscellaneous natural debris sweeps downstream towards Bagnell Dam? In the worst case scenario, how would emergency officials respond if water topped the Bagnell Dam, threatening farms, homes and entire towns below the dam all the way down the watershed?
Almost 100 emergency personnel gathered in Osage Beach Wednesday morning in meeting of the minds to address these questions and better prepare for the worst case scenario.
Ameren Missouri hosted representatives from 17 local, state and federal agencies in a once-in-five-years disaster simulation.
"It's great that all these state and local groups can come together to prepare for an event we hope will never come," Bagnell Dam plant engineer Alan Sullivan, who organized the simulation, said.
The exercise sought to test the Emergency Action Plan of Ameren's Osage Plant, fulfilling a requirement of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission license.
Broken into groups and seated at tables scattered around the Northwinds meeting room at Tan-Tar-A, representatives began simulated work on a mid-Sept. morning following ten inches of rain, with more precipitation on the horizon — not terribly unlike what the lake experienced in August.
Students from Miller County R-III high school delivered messages to and from the tables as emergency officials executed plans to various flood-related situations. Fire personnel needed to address fires near Bagnell Dam, while state relief agencies planned to house and care for evacuees as the Missouri Department of Transportation employees formulated workarounds for compromised bridges and roads.
"We want to know where the issues are. We're not afraid to expose our flaws or chinks in the armor," Sullivan said as he addressed the participants.
Curveballs, including limited communications, were hurled at the participants throughout the exercise.
Several officials sat in as panelists in planned press conferences about the scenario. Ameren's Director of Hydro Operations, Warren Witt, went behind the microphone in multiple impromptu television "broadcasts" in a practice to better disseminate information to the public in case of a real emergency.
Evaluating the exercise, most attendants expressed optimism with the possibility of improvements in emergency response.
"We saw areas that we can improve on in communications," Miller County Presiding Commissioner Tom Wright said. "It did give us a lot of talking points that we can go back on and improve."
Page 2 of 2 - Most attendants said they hope a gathering of the various relevant agencies can occur more than once every five years. Although 17 groups were represented at the event, even more agencies could benefit from the simulation.
"Everything we practiced is downstream," Lake Ozark Fire Protection District Chief Mark Amsinger said. "We need to practice upstream and get them involved as well."
Ameren hosted the event. Officials from Benton, Callaway, Camden, Cole, Miller and Osage Counties joined delegates from the Lake Ozark Police Department, Lake Ozark Fire Protection District and Osage Beach Fire Protection District. Statewide agencies represented included the Missouri State Highway Patrol, State Emergency Management Association, MoDOT and the Department of Natural Resources. FERC delegates joined other federal agency representatives from the United States Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service.
Sullivan noted that there are no known weaknesses in Bagnell Dam currently — the exercise was completely hypothetical.
"We do everything to keep our dam safe," Sullivan said.
And should the worst case scenario ever become a reality, those tasked with responding feel a little bit better prepared.