Emergency response was quick, effective

Monday, July 26, 2004

With national attention focused on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for fighting terrorism, Sunday's anhydrous ammonia incident is a good reminder that local preparation is key to emergency response.

And, despite criticism and some minor kinks in communication, that preparation paid off. No member of the public was injured and the situation was under control quickly.

The incident illustrates the fact that while we all worry about terrorism, we are far more likely to encounter an incident like a hazardous materials situation or storm. Whatever the emergency, communication and preparation are key.

On Sunday, all the entities involved -- the Frenchman Valley Farmers Co-Op, Red Willow Western Rural Fire Department, State Patrol, Sheriff, McCook Police Department and McCook Fire Department -- showed a high degree of cooperation.

That doesn't mean some things couldn't have been done better. For instance, while authorities went door-to-door warning those who were in the path of the anhydrous cloud, most McCook residents didn't know anything was amiss until they heard sirens blow until the wind shifted to the north.

When they turned on local radio stations, they heard either nothing at all, or a message that the siren was not weather-related. What they didn't know was that an emergency message was being distributed through the cable television system.

That's OK, but many of us do not have cable television. That situation has been remedied already, and we know that next time the siren sounds, the correct information will be distributed quickly.

What will be harder to remedy, however, is the location of McCook's Safety Center. Located next to the railroad tracks, the safety center is vulnerable to contamination from a derailment or a hazardous materials incident from nearby industrial sites.

What if a large cloud of anhydrous ammonia were hanging over the fire department's trucks and the dispatch center?

We're sure contingency plans are in place, and there is no guarantee that any other location would be completely safe, but some long-term solution should be found to that possible threat to community safety.

But, nit-picking aside, local emergency personnel should be commended for their quick, effective response to a dangerous situation.

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