BOZEMAN, Mont. - Livingston city officials are planning for the worst when it comes to disaster preparedness. For a city so close to one of the world's supervolcanoes, that means being aware of the hazards that come along with volcanic activity.
Livingston is around 55 miles from Yellowstone National Park. Wednesday, senior officials with the city gathered at a private ranch to train for disaster planning and readiness and to learn more about volcanic risks.
A dramatic explosion is what many folks think of when they hear the phrase "worst case scenario" but scientists say the probability of a supervolcano eruption is so slim, it's not something worth planning for on a community level.
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory's Jake Lowenstern tells NBC Montana the most likely hazards at Yellowstone are earthquakes and explosions out of Yellowstone's geyser systems. Less likely are real volcanic eruptions.
"It could cause damming of rivers, some flooding, going to put some ash in the air and the ash certainly could get out to the communities up here," says Lowenstern.
Ash could disrupt transportation, contaminate food and water and effect electric systems.
"That's a pretty fantastic scenario. I don't know that any local government would be totally ready for that but we do have excellent response teams in Livingston and Park County," explains Livingston City Manager Ed Meece.
A big part of that response is ensuring the community is able to take care of itself for at least a short period of time, since folks would be asked to stay put and shelter in place.
"How do we provide for essential services over an extended period of time? What do we do with our children if they can't go to school?" questions Deputy Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Greg Coleman.
One of their biggest concerns is communication -- that is, how government can communicate with its citizens.
"Folks need to think a couple steps along, not just, 'well, I'll use my cell phone.' Well, what if your cell phone doesn't work?" asks Meece.
It's why they encourage folks to sign up for the county alert system and look to the city's Twitter and Facebook pages.
However unlikely a volcanic eruption may be or any large scale disaster, Livingston city officials say it's something they always need to keep in mind when they make policy, staffing and communication decisions.
"What we do on a daily basis and how well we do it really is a reflection of how well we'll be able to respond to a serious emergency," explains Meece.
They say it all starts with training and awareness.
We also learned there is a big difference between emergency response and disaster response. While emergency responders train on a regular basis and are well-equipped to handle intense but brief situations, city officials say it's much harder to be prepared for large-scale disasters. Those often involve a much larger area over a longer period of time and involves more people.