The importance of exercise: Teams drill for I-70 disaster

Daniel Hatlestad, left, of the Northwest Colorado Incident Management Team describes the duties of the Incident Command post at the Mesa County Fairgrounds while participant Karla Tejada listens Tuesday during the first of three days of the NUWAIX national incident training exercise taking place around Grand Junction. The scenario of the drill is an accident on I-70 that includes a tanker truck, a Department of Energy semi carrying hazardous materials, and several civilian vehicles.

Dozens of personnel from the federal and state government joined numerous local emergency personnel Tuesday for the first day of a three-day drill to test the abilities of each agency to work together in a highly visible, potentially dangerous, and complex situation.

The U.S. Department of Energy selected Grand Junction as its test site to simulate a crash on Interstate 70 between one of its tractor-trailers carrying classified material and a tanker carrying hazardous material. Three other vehicles were involved in the scenario as well.

The drill couldn’t actually take place on I-70 because of logistical issues with shutting down an interstate for multiple days for a fake crash, so crews used the law enforcement training track by the Western Colorado Dragway off 32 Road as the crash site.

The drill started at 7 a.m. Tuesday and concludes Thursday. In the interim, people may notice an increase in federal and state government vehicles in the area as officials work to replicate an investigation into what happened and why.

Locals can follow progress of the Nuclear Weapon Accident Incident Exercise, or NUWAIX, drill at the Joint Information Center’s blog,

A limited number of media representatives were given a tour Tuesday of the various NUWAIX drill locations to see how everyone involved was communicating and working should an incident such as a multi-vehicle crash involving a Department of Energy convoy happen here. 

Those stops were the Joint Information Center at the Grand Junction Police Department, where information was given to disseminate to the public via blogs, social network, press conferences, etc.

“It’s good to do (this) in a live scenario,” said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Dan Chermok, acting as spokesman for the JIC.

Other stops on the tour included the crash site, the Emergency Operations Center at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the Incident Command Post at the Mesa County Fairgrounds, the site responsible for the overall safety and management of the incident, said Dan Hatlestad, spokesman with the Northwest Colorado Incident Management Team.

Al Stotts, spokesman from the National Nuclear Security Administration, who said he has been a part of numerous emergency drill exercises, complimented the support and work local and state agencies were offering federal government staff thus far.


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