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Niagara dam safety drill readies OPG's response plan

 Niagara dam safety drill readies OPG's response plan

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On Nov. 7, OPG’s Niagara Operations staff launched into emergency mode.

All hands were on deck as a near failure of the Lake Gibson Dyke activated the Welland Canal Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP).

Thankfully, this was not a real dam safety event, but a simulation of a scenario in which rapidly escalating seepage triggered an emergency response.

OPG staff gather around the Mobile Command Vehicle during a recent full-scale dam safety exercise in Niagara.
OPG staff gather around the Mobile Command Vehicle during a recent full-scale dam safety exercise in Niagara.

​Full-scale dam safety exercises like this one take place annually within OPG’s Renewable Generation group, alternating between Operations Groups every four years, to help familiarize staff with emergency response plans and ensure OPG’s state of readiness to respond to a real dam emergency.

In this case, the operation was deemed a success.

“OPG staff were able to practice their roles in a safe learning environment,” said Tony Bennett, OPG’s Director of Dam and Public Safety. “Our staff worked collaboratively and communicated clearly to respond professionally to the dam safety emergency scenario.”

As part of OPG’s Dam Safety Program, EPRPs are in place for every river system OPG operates on and at facilities that have a potential to impact life safety, property, or the environment in the unlikely event of a dam failure.

In a real dam emergency, rapid response and regular contact between OPG and community response agencies is critical. EPRPs and stakeholder engagement facilitate smooth communications. The plans also provide local authorities with an awareness of various dam breach scenarios, which assist in developing their own emergency plans.

The Niagara full scale exercise engaged more than 100 staff from across OPG who either participated, managed, evaluated, or observed. Also taking part were staff from key stakeholders such as Decew Falls Water Treatment, the City of St. Catharines Fire Department, and Niagara Regional Police Service, who conducted their own water rescue exercise in coordination with OPG’s own scenario.

“This exercise was an excellent opportunity to work with the stakeholders located within our community,” said Staff Sergeant Gordon Nash of the Niagara Regional Police. “OPG has significant critical infrastructure within the Region of Niagara. Partnerships such as this are paramount.”

The drill also served as an opportunity for OPG to incorporate new technologies such as drones, which took to the sky to safely capture aerial footage of the dyke. This video was then live-streamed to the various emergency response centres.

A “Mobile Command Vehicle” was also on site to assist with communications and provide shelter to response staff and exercise coordinators participating outdoors at the incident site.

OPG’s Renewable Generation team is now looking ahead and planning next year’s full-scale dam safety exercise with a different operations group.