By BRIAN GRAVES
A group of first responders and industry officials met this week to more formally establish the county’s local emergency planning committee.Held at the Bradley County 911 Center, the group …
A group of first responders and industry officials met this week to more formally establish the county’s local emergency planning committee.
Held at the Bradley County 911 Center, the group consisted of representatives of Cleveland Fire Department and Codes Enforcement, Bradley County EMS and EMA, Bradley County 911, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Tennessee Department of Health, Wacker, Lonza, Linde, Bradley County Road Department, Tennova Healthcare–Cleveland, Lonza, and ADM Milling.
“I wish we had a little more response from industry, but hopefully after today we can start growing that a little bit,” said Curtis Cline of the Bradley County EMA administrative office, who chaired the meeting.
The group regularly meets at least once a year, but the meeting established they might do so more often as the committee selects officers for the group.
County EMA Director Troy Spence discussed the most recent events the emergency agencies were required to respond to — Wacker and the courthouse fire.
“Wacker had a product that was leaking which was causing a chemical vapor cloud,” Spence said. “We sent out some notifications to the public, because that’s our responsibility.”
He said after the Wacker explosion, the EMA began getting “multiple phone calls.”
“If a siren gets tested or anything happens, people start panicking and making phone calls,” Spence said.
He said the first requests were to give public notices about siren tests.
“Our answer was ‘No,’” Spence said. “I would if we had the area defined around the plants and send the notice to the people in that area to let them know [there's no] problem. I don’t want to send a county-wide text for public notifications when it’s not an emergency because everyone gets complacent with it.”
He said if industries want to notify the residents near their plants, EMA would welcome them to talk to the agency and give the names to be notified and set up the system accordingly.
“That is important because there are still people in office who say they were uninformed,” Spence said. “There are ways to get them informed, and if you know of any specifically wanting information, there is a community advisory panel.”
He said anything the major chemical companies are doing is announced during those panel sessions.
“That is what the panel is for — for officials to get a ‘report card’ about what is going on and if you are not a part of that you need to let us know, because it includes everything and it is open to the public to join and be informed as to what is going on,” Spence said. “That is a good format to do that.”
He said the reason EMA did not send a lot of notifications during the Wacker incident was because “the product itself was not immediately dangerous to life and health.”
“It was an irritant. If you had major breathing problems, it was going to be a problem. So, we sent out notifications to the public to protect themselves appropriately,” Spence said. “We don’t want to cause panic when there is no need to cause panic.”
He said had the explosion caused “a big green cloud of chlorine, there would have been more instructions and a lot more urgency.”
“There are things we are working on to try to get ahead of the social media, which is something we can’t control,” Spence said of often sensationalized and outright wrong user-generated content.
“We want people to get the official notification and put the truth out there where the truth is what is being repeated, instead of people making stuff up and putting it out there.”
He said all involved need to make sure they have a current emergency response plan in place.
“We go out and do drills at all of the plant sites,” Spence said. “That’s why I feel like the night of the Wacker incident went so successfully, and we continue to build on the relationships with these larger chemical companies.”
Spence noted several of the chemical companies were not represented at the meeting.
“We used to have a lot of participation from them, but they haven’t had an incident in quite awhile,” he said. “We tend to forget about those until it happens to us.”
Spence said there have been discussions since the Wacker situation and there were going to be some “changes in-plant (with the goal to) make it better for the plant and responders.”
“There are always opportunities to learn and grow and do better jobs,” he said. “I’m thankful for that and for the fact no one got hurt.”
Spence said there are also plans to have drills and better education in county schools about “shelter-in-place” procedures.
He said industries needed to look at what chemicals they use and what the effects could be should they spread off-site.
“You need to be prepared to notify the public,” Spence reiterated.
Spence, reporting on the courthouse fire, said less than 100 gallons of water was needed at the scene, which significantly reduced any water damage. That was due to the fire being contained in one mechanical room.
Spence described the cleanup process as being “intensive” due to soot covering everything, including paperwork.
“As far as planning, we have for years been attempting to update our ‘continuity of operations’ plan,” he said. “That’s a big deal for businesses. If something ever happens and you need to move and get your areas working again, that will be important. You need a good plan as to how to get back into business.”
Wacker Fire Chief Dan King said the plant wants to host the next committee meeting on Jan. 11, when members will “cover a lot more information about the incident.”
Cline reminded everyone of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, which ensures residents have the opportunity to be informed about hazardous materials manufactured, utilized or stored by industries in their community.
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