MOUNT VERNON — Evaluations completed by local officials on the hazmat situation on Ohio 13 on April 20 have been completed and released to the public.
Although the evaluations of the first responders and those in command were positive, deficiencies in communication and the release of accurate information to the public during the event were noted and acknowledged by those involved.
“Communication was the biggest drawback, as is typical in most large-scale operations,” said Fredericktown Fire Chief Scott Mast, who commanded the incident.
Mast and others directly involved with the incident said the Emergency Operations Center activated by the Knox County Emergency Management Agency did not operate as effectively as they would have liked.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy said the reports he heard from Mount Vernon Fire Department personnel who attended the after-action meeting gave him concern. In his role as a member of the 9-1-1 board, Christy said he will be rethinking some design points of the EOC.
“It’s going to allow me as a 9-1-1 board member to look at overall operations of the EOC as a whole,” Christy said.
Interim EMA Director Brian Hess was not in the EOC because he was assisting Mast at the scene, and at the Fredericktown fire station when the command center was moved there. Christy said the lack of a deputy EMA director meant Hess had to choose between working in the EOC and working at the scene.
“We are down to one so he was trying to do both roles,” Christy said. “In a time of crisis and emergency he determined where his presence was able to effect the most change.”
“My decision was based on need and that need was for me to use the CAMEO Program (Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations) to properly assess the hazards at hand throughout the night,” Hess said.
“It was a tremendous call as he has resources on the scene which allowed him to be an emergency resource to the first responders,” Christy said, adding Hess’s presence was not required in the EOC. “There are many other people in the county who are familiar with the EOC.”
The EOC was initially opened and run by Larry Hatton, retired EMA director. Capt. Richard Brenneman of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office then took over as the public information officer.
Representatives of county agencies, including law enforcement and fire departments, the Knox County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Transportation, are on call to respond to the EOC in case of an emergency. Knox County Sheriff David Barber was in the EOC during much of the evening hours when the incident was unfolding. He said he believes officials involved with emergency response in the county need to work together to come up with a better plan to provide accurate information to the public in a timely manner during future emergencies.
“The flow of information needs to be improved to keep the public better informed in a timely manner,” Hess agreed.
Residents complained they were unable to obtain accurate information about the incident and how long they would be unable to return home. Hess said providing better answers to residents is a top priority.
“We need to control a more updated flow of information to the public,” Hess said. “I plan in the future to keep my PIO better informed.”
One suggestion is a more direct involvement of media, particularly local radio stations, to work with officials at the EOC. This would take some of the burden off 9-1-1 dispatchers, who fielded many phone calls, which were then funneled into the EOC.
Officials have also been discussing ways to better channel information from those at the scene to the EOC.
“Anytime you have a multi-jurisdictional incident, the communication is always going to be the part you can improve on,” Christy said.
Richard Lauffer, field liaison from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency who received the local evaluations of the incident, said he should have his report for the state completed in the next week or two.
“They give me the evaluations and I have notes from the after-action meeting,” Lauffer said. “They explained to me what went on and what they did. I then will add my comments and make recommendations.”
Lauffer agreed communication was one of the areas receiving the most criticism after the event. “Communications was one, and there were a few other issues that came up as well,” he said.
Lauffer said his report will detail those issues as well.
The hazmat incident began when a tanker truck carrying over 41,000 pounds of hazardous anhydrous ammonia crashed and overturned on Ohio 13. The Fredericktown Community Fire District took charge of securing the vehicle and evacuating the area within a 2 1/2 mile radius of the crash. MVFD and College Township firefighters provided mutual aid during the event. Assistance was requested from the Mount Vernon Police Department for traffic control and help in notifying affected residents.
Officials said the evaluations will provide insight into planning for future emergencies.
“This has enabled us to identify the strengths and weaknesses that were encountered and will help us to adjust our preplans for possible future incidents,” Mast said.