FREDERICKTOWN — Representatives from agencies who had a part in emergency operations surrounding an overturned tanker filled with anhydrous ammonia last week met Friday afternoon to discuss details of the event.
“The purpose of an after-action meeting is to learn from the operation and look at points of improvement,” said Brian Hess, Knox County interim emergency management director.
Fredericktown Fire Chief Scott Mast, the incident commander during the hazmat situation, and Hess were among those from around the county and the state EMA who went over the timeline of events and critiqued their own performance, as well as the performance of each other.
Hess and Mast said that overall, communication and providing accurate information to the public in a timely manner are two areas on which the county can improve.
“I took things back with me that I can take into consideration to help improve response from the EMA office and the functionality of the Emergency Operations Center,” Hess said after the meeting. “This includes dissemination of information to the public, and the flow of information in other various forms.”
Providing up-to-date information to the public affected by the evacuation during the event proved a challenge for those in charge. Knox County Sheriff David Barber said many residents called the EOC, trying to learn if their homes were in the affected area, and when they could return to their homes.
Soon after the tanker truck overturned north of Beckley Road on Ohio 13, 10 homes in the immediate area were evacuated. Later in the evening, the number of homes evacuated grew to almost 200.
Mast said the changing weather and time of day meant the area which he needed to evacuate grew as evening fell. The unpredictable blustery weather also played a role.
“The high gusts of wind and the change in the direction of the winds made for exceptional weather conditions,” Hess said.
Providing consistent information to all residents affected by the evacuation is one area Hess and Barber both said would be looked at to improve.
“The people involved all need to have the same information,” Barber said. “It needs to be accurate and it needs to be timely.”
Obtaining reliable information from the outside contractor responsible for offloading the chemical, and relaying that information to the first responders, incident command, EOC and the public, is another area which all involved said they will look at improving.
Hess said his agency will work with local media to establish a procedure to provide more timely information to the public should another emergency occur.
Although the release of information to the public and the sharing of information between agencies are areas the EMA is committed to improving, Hess and Mast said the performance of the first responders was commended at Friday’s meeting. Hess said the first responders understood the seriousness of the situation and the impact the evacuation had on people’s lives.
Mast and Hess agreed the safety of the citizens evacuated was their highest priority, which made inconveniencing the residents necessary for their well-being.
“I understand and expect people to be upset when they have to leave their homes at anytime, especially in the evening,” Hess said. “My responsibility and that of the first responders is public protection. How differently would displaced individuals feel should there have been a leak and they were not evacuated?”
Because the threat was safely contained without any exposure to the first responders or area residents, those involved said the emergency operations were highly successful.