AMU Emergency Management Public Safety

EDM Friday Briefing: 33 Vale SA Tailings Dams in Brazil at Risk of Failure

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for October 2, 2020: President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced they tested positive for the coronavirus as two Boeing E-6B Mercury planes took to the air; the Imperial Valley near the Salton Sea was hit with an earthquake swarm of at least 240 earthquakes; Vale SA announces 33 of its 104 dams did not pass structure stability assessments; Red Flag Warnings are now in effect through Saturday for the Napa and Sonoma counties which could impact the Glass Fire; the NHC is monitoring a system of low pressure in the northwestern Caribbean Sea that has a 90% chance of development; new evacuation orders have been issued for the Glass Fire as at least 28,000 structures remain threatened; a technical glitch sent a Napa County IPAWS emergency alert to residents in other counties who were not at risk; and evacuation orders have been issued in Jackson County, Colorado as the Mullen Fire burns into the state from Wyoming.

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1) President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus and are in quarantine at the White House for the next 14 days. The announcement was made very early Friday morning, and at that time, two Boeing E-6B Mercury planes were detected in the air, one flying along each coast. Part of Operation Looking Glass, the planes serve as a mobile command to the fleet of U.S. ballistic submarines all over the world. According to reports, a top military official said the timing of the flights was “merely coincidental.”

2) An earthquake swarm hit the Imperial Valley in California, just south of the Salton Sea, with shaking felt throughout the region. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there were 240 quakes in the swarm. But over a two-and-a-half hour period, 45 earthquakes measuring 3.0 or greater on the Richter scale shook the rural town of Westmorland. The quakes occurred along a network of small faults known as the Brawley Seismic Zone, which connects the San Andreas and Imperial faults.

3) After inspections were conducted, Vale SA determined that 33 of its 104 dams situated in Brazil did not receive a positive stability assessment. All but one of the 33 dams that were cited for instability are part of ferrous metal operations (tailings dams). After the findings, the Xingu dam in Mariana was elevated to a Level 2 risk, with Level 3 indicating the dam is at imminent risk of failure. Evacuations were conducted around a total of nine dams in the area, including the Xingu dam. Vale SA is under heavy scrutiny as the owner of the tailings dam that collapsed in Brumadinho in 2019, killing 270 people, and the Mariana dam, which collapsed in 2015 and killed 19.

4) Red Flag Warnings are now in effect until Saturday for the Sonoma and Napa counties, which includes areas near where the Glass Fire is burning. As winds continue to increase, the risk of fire spread rises exponentially. With containment at only 5%, concern is high that the fire will outflank backfires and jump fire lines. The wildfire, which is now at about 58,000 acres, is threatening more than 28,000 structures and has already destroyed or damaged a total of at least 289 homes in the two counties.

5) The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is monitoring an area of low pressure in the northwestern Caribbean that has a 90% chance of development into a tropical depression or storm later today or Saturday. The system has become better organized, shower activity has increased and environmental conditions are conducive for development. Should the system develop further, it will be named Gamma, and the NHC noted that interests in the Yucatan Peninsula and Northern Central America should closely monitor this system and local weather alerts for storm development.

6) New evacuation orders have been issued for the Glass Fire as increasing winds spotted fires up to one mile away beginning on Thursday. The fire swiftly moved into Angwin, prompting rescue efforts for some residents who became trapped as the fire destroyed several homes. Fire weather conditions include near-record temperatures in the area of the fire, low humidity and high winds, with the wildfire now actively burning just on the outskirts of Calistoga. Local residents have been ordered to evacuate or have been issued an evacuation warning, which means they should already be prepared and ready to evacuate if/when the order is given.

7) Residents across the Bay Area were erroneously sent Emergency Alerts via Integrated and Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS) on Thursday regarding “Extreme Fire Danger.” The emergency alert was issued by Napa County officials, but due to a glitch in the alert system, the IPAWS alerts ended up being sent to residents of Contra Costa, Marin, Solano, and Yolo counties, where no fire threat existed. To ease resident concerns, local authorities quickly issued statements via social media that stated no evacuation orders or fire threats existed in their locations. A clarification statement regarding the IPAWS alert was later issued by Napa County. It noted that the fire threat was in the area of Angwin, Calistoga, and St. Helena, and no immediate threat existed to the City of Napa or any of the surrounding areas.

8) The Mullen Fire burning in Wyoming has now spread into Colorado and is quickly moving toward the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire is now only 26 miles southwest of the Mullen Fire, and the area near the Mullen Fire is on a Red Flag Warning Friday and possibly into Saturday. Wind speeds of 13-16 mph are forecast, with even stronger winds likely on Saturday. Evacuation orders have been issued for Jackson County, Colorado, and information regarding evacuations and fire activity can be found on CodeRED or the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.


Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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