3.5 Advance Planning and Preparation
Drills, tabletop exercises, and actual incidents keep the El Dorado emergency management agencies active throughout the year. Approximately three to four times a year, the incident command system is established to handle the latest emergency. For example, on a particular stretch of a local roadway, due to a potential tight turning radius, propane trucks overturn two to three times a year requiring the evacuation of the local neighborhood.
The El Dorado community has a number of chemical, manufacturing, and oil facilities, and the attitude among the emergency management agencies appears to be that there is the “potential for anything to happen.” As a result, the LEPC conducts drills and tabletop exercises several times a year. Scenarios include HazMat, a pipeline explosion, bomb scares, and a tornado touch down. In addition, a number of the facilities such as the Lion Oil Company conduct their own drills and invite the LEPC to participate.
Even though annual drills are required by Arkansas law, the LEPC traditionally conducts more drills. As mentioned by one of the interviewees, they are “the drilliest part of the state.”
Little additional equipment appeared to be needed for the incident. One piece of equipment mentioned was air-monitoring equipment. The EPA flew in the specialized air-monitoring equipment and, within 3 hours of the incident, the equipment was in place, monitoring the air quality. Through mutual-aid agreements, additional equipment was available through other emergency management entities.
A private contractor was engaged to provide fuel for the emergency management vehicles. The Salvation Army provided a food canteen for emergency management staff.
El Dorado County has an All Hazards Emergency Plan prepared by the LEPC. One aspect of the plan is the description of the role of emergency entities during emergencies. It was mentioned several times that the All Hazards Emergency Plan is updated frequently as needed. For example, a component on terrorism was added after 9/11 and, during the anthrax scare, a component was added to address anthrax.
While the evacuation of nursing homes is not addressed in the All Hazards Emergency Plan, it was mentioned that the emergency management entities are aware of the number of nursing homes and residents that may require evacuation.
Some off-duty personnel were called in between the police and fire departments since the incident occurred on a weekend with a normal skeleton staff, but no additional manpower resources were needed from outside the community.
The sheriff’s office was primarily concerned with the evacuation of the county jail, and as a result of the use of an incident command and the appearance of adequate resources, the sheriff and his staff concentrated on the evacuation of 170 prisoners and 60 staff members. Without the need for a jail evacuation, the sheriff’s office normally contributes resources to the LEPC.
As the incident came under control, resources were released.
The LEPC holds monthly emergency planning meetings. Meeting programs range from planning spring drills to discussions on pipeline safety, mass vaccinations, acid incidents, and drill critique.
The Red Cross has the responsibility of identifying public shelters that are to be used in times of emergencies. The community has 8 to 10 potential sites that can be used as public shelters, including the municipal auditorium, a college gym, churches, and commercial structures. Shelters are selected that have storage, overnight sleeping, kitchen, and restroom facilities.
The shelters are not identified ahead of time due to the possibility of a shelter being included in the incident zone. Depending on the situation, the Red Cross will open shelters as needed.
During the El Dorado incident, the Union County Emergency Management Director contacted the Red Cross via a cell phone, and the Red Cross, in turn, determined the location of the three shelters.
Initially, the city auditorium was announced as a public shelter, but due to concern with the plume and wind direction, it was decided to use churches in the community as public shelters for citizens during the incident. There was no turning away of residents from the public shelters, but some residents had to be redirected to other shelters due to the air conditions.
One out of the three public shelters that were opened was primarily used by the residents of one evacuated nursing homes. Comments were made that most of the non-nursing home residents who were evacuated either went to stay with other family members or stayed at the third public shelter.
February 6, 2006