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Snow and ICS: Incident Management Works in Knox County

 

March 11, 2008

 

Knox County – Toboggan Nationals ICS

2008 marked the 18th year the Camden Snow Bowl played host to the National Toboggan Championships – a tongue-in-cheek event where participants – riding four to a toboggan – race down a 400 foot ice chute onto a frozen pond. “It was named the Nationals, and considered the national championship because it occurs nowhere else,” said Ray Sisk, Knox County’s Emergency Management Director.

Though some people might call it a circus atmosphere, the participants take the event seriously. “They use special designs and secret wax formulas for speed,” Sisk said.

“Every year the event has gotten bigger and bigger,” said Sisk, “not only in participants, but in spectators.” In its 18 years of operation, the Championships have been covered on ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other national and international press.

Last year’s event was the biggest yet – 3,000 spectators and participants per day. “This year, we were expecting more,” Sisk said.

Fortunately Knox County emergency responders were prepared for a growing event.

Federal law requires that all state and local organizations adopt the National Incident Management System (or NIMS) as the framework for response to disasters or emergencies. Knox County had been doing just that. Municipal emergency responders incorporating this system were participating in a variety of training courses, including the Incident Command System, or ICS.

Participants in the ICS course had chosen to use the Toboggan National Championships as a classroom exercise in event management. Though at first the idea was just an example, “the course led to the idea of setting up a formal ICS structure for the event,” said Sisk. “It was the first time it had ever been done.”

Steve Gibbons, Camden’s Fire Chief, said the level of emergency planning required by ICS was long overdue. “We had been pushing this for years, we’ve had this big event, and we knew we really ought to have some sort of a plan,” he said.

During the course, Toboggan Nationals organizers sent to the instructor a list of worst-case scenarios to be evaluated for response planning. These included problems with on-site parking, a toboggan-toboggan collision, a helicopter or aircraft crash on the pond, and a Presidential candidate attending the event. Planning for these situations started as just exercises, but during the actual event, one of those worst-case scenarios became very real.

On Saturday, February 9, the racing stopped and emergency crews responded to a toboggan crash. According to Jeff Kuller, manager of the Camden Snow Bowl, one four-person toboggan turned on its side near the bottom of the chute and was struck by another toboggan. Six people were injured. . Ragged Mountain Ski Patrollers from the Camden Snow Bowl stationed nearby were first on the scene. They called in additional patrollers and resources for the first aid treatment.

"All of a sudden radio traffic indicates that there is something happening," Gibbons said. "I was able to ask two questions and get answers. I pulled the Incident Action Plan out of my coat and knew where we needed to go," he said. As the person responsible for emergency services when the event turned incident, Gibbons coordinated efforts with Ski Patrol and EMS members at the bottom of the chute. He called in additional ambulances and initiated the LifeFlight helicopter response to the previously prepared and pre-designated helicopter landing zone. Management of that “helispot” was covered by other members of the Camden Fire Department.

“We had potentially eight persons hurt,” Gibbons said. “At one time, we were dealing with five ambulances from two agencies, a LifeFlight helicopter, crowd control, traffic control – and from start to finish, it took 40 minutes,” he said. “We were in and out in 40 minutes. That just doesn’t happen.” Gibbons and Sisk are sure that prior planning and ICS coordination made that immediate response possible.

The Incident Command System was designed and implemented to aid responders in the California wildfires of the 1970s, when differences in personnel, equipment and tactics limited the effectiveness of firefighting agencies. ICS was a bridge, providing emergency response agencies with standardized jobs and titles, common terms for equipment and supplies, and a formal incident chain of command. Sisk believes the Toboggan Nationals demonstrates that first responders can collaborate in an emergency – and the result can be flawless. “This is probably the best local example of multi-agency coordination that we’ve had,” Sisk said. “We had EMS, fire departments, police, alpine ski patrollers, thousands of spectators, and a fully-functioning ski area all within 30 acres, and it all ran really well,” he said.

ICS planning and integration was so successful for the Championships that Camden town officials are now making the system an emergency response standard. “The town is looking at incident command as a way of doing business routinely,” Gibbons said. “The town manager is saying ‘that is the plan I want.’”

Gibbons and Sisk are currently working to develop an event action plan and incident command structure for the Camden Opera House.

—Derek Mitchell

 

Contact:

Knox County EMA
594-5155

 

Last update: 07/20/10