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Posted 2/1/2018

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By Lee Roberts
Nashville District Public Affairs

OLD HICKORY, Tenn. (Feb. 1, 2018) – What would happen if a towboat and barge were commandeered and its hijackers threatened public safety while inside a Corps of Engineers navigation lock?  First responders wrestled with this potential scenario during a tabletop exercise at Old Hickory Dam today.

Federal, state and local officials weighed possible strategies and tactics, and discussed the resources required to respond to such a nefarious event during “First Responders Day” at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District project located on the Cumberland River a short distance upstream of Music City.

Patrick Sheehan, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency director, said he valued the opportunity to see the impressive infrastructure and to interact with Corps employees, which made the tabletop exercise even more real and resulted in more effective decision making.

“To be able to see it (the dam) and be able to have the right partners around to talk through how we might respond to any number of crises that happen here, you don’t get that kind of orientation by sitting around,” Sheehan said. “It’s impressive to be able to see the moving parts and how things connect to the electrical grid and support the waterway.”

Officials from the Nashville District, U.S. Coast Guard, Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee National Guard, Hendersonville Police Department and Metro Nashville Police Department participated.

Prior to the tabletop exercise, first responders were familiarized with the facilities at Old Hickory Dam, which included a tour of the dam, navigation lock and hydropower plant.  Corps officials also provided briefings on emergency management, safety and security, and even gave a tour of an emergency command and control vehicle.

Tony Bivens, Nashville District’s Middle Tennessee area manager, explained how Old Hickory Dam, a run of the river project at Cumberland River mile 216.2, delivers limited flood risk reduction, but does provide great value with hydropower generation, and greatly supports the region with navigation and recreation benefits.

Because of the lock’s involvement with the exercise scenario, Bivens pointed out that the navigation lock is 84-feet wide and 397-feet long, and that the lock is operated by filling and emptying the chamber.

“We not only maintain and operate these lock structures, but we also maintain a nine-foot navigation channel throughout the Cumberland River,” Bivens said.

Throughout the exercise, the first responders detailed a lot of “what ifs” and discussed how the different agencies would engage the situation and communicate internally and externally. They shared how their respective organizations would provide support at different points of the timeline from initial response to resolution.

Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, Nashville District commander, said “First Responders Day” allowed everyone to see the project, build relationships and cultivate understanding with each other before something bad happens.  He encouraged everyone to provide feedback to make future exercises more effective and useful, and thanked everyone for their willingness to work together to be prepared.

“It was great to have such a diverse group out here helping us understand the challenges that we would potentially face in the event a worst-case scenario did occur,” Jones said.  “This was developed to continue to build our relationships and increase our understanding across multi-agencies so we could be a cohesive team in the event of an incident and unified response.”

(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at  http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.  The public can also follow Old Hickory Lake on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/oldhickorylake.)  

Commander Corps of Engineers Cullen Jones Cumberland River dams Director disaster preparedness emergency management exercise first responders First Responders Day Hendersonville Police Department and Metro Nashville Police Department hydropower Jones Lt. Col. Cullen Jones Music City Nashville District navigation Old Hickory Old Hickory Dam Old Hickory Lock Patrick Sheehan power plant readiness safety security tabletop exercise TEMA Tennessee Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Tennessee Highway Patrol Tennessee National Guard Tennessee Office of Homeland Security U.S. Coast Guard USACE