Emergency

Rerun of Twister TV

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was saddened just like most of you to see the footage from yesterday’s events in Moore, Oklahoma.  Several years ago I posted this article on EPA’s main Greenversations Blog.  Two years ago our Region experienced our own devastation to the south in Joplin, Missouri.  Tornadoes are serious stuff.  Make sure you and your family are prepared especially if you live east of the Rockies as they can hit most anywhere (great visualization from John Nelson of uxblog.idvsolutions.com).

tornadotracks

EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year (edit: 6 years ago now) was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.

 

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Fire in the Sky: Emergency Response

A loud thump woke me up. I looked at my startled husband as he yelled, “Let’s go get the kids.” I stood as our concrete house shook, and grabbed an iron post from the bed to keep my stance. “An earthquake,” I mustered as we exited our room and noticed the hour:12:25 a.m. In the hallway, my eldest daughter hugged me while asking what was going on. Fortunately, our youngest children did not wake up. In our dining room, the window screens were on the floor and the chandelier was swinging from side to side. My brother-in-law phoned to say there was fire in the sky. My immediate thoughts were about an airplane accident. I opened our dining room side door to find the sky changing colors from red to orange to violet. We looked for a radio and soon learned the cause of such chaos: fire at the Caribbean Petroleum (CAPECO) tank farm less than a mile from our home.

image of fire at petroleum plantWhat was a long awaited weekend all year long – we were holding our Halloween party – turned into an emergency response for me. Within ten minutes of the explosion, I called our Response and Remediation Branch Chief who in turn called the National Response Center.

As a public affairs specialist in the San Juan office of EPA, I had dealt with minor emergencies; this, however, was a real environmental threat since various drums containing jet fuel, Bunker C, diesel and other petroleum derivatives were on fire. The CAPECO facility is located on Road #28 in an area that encompasses three towns: Guaynabo, Bayamon and Cataño and is next to Fort Buchanan, a large military base. The San Juan Bay is two miles away and wetlands and minor water bodies are nearby. The reason this emergency hit home is because, aside from living nearby the facility, I drive down this very same road at 5 am to go to the gym at Fort Buchanan. The tanks are visible from the road.

The first few hours were frantic as federal, state and municipal agencies tried to contain the fire and activate all emergency protocols to ensure the citizens in this largely populated area were not affected. An Incident Command Center was established within 18 hours at a sports facility in San Juan, and we were deployed to work. The media and citizens needed accurate information. We worked hard to provide it.

I must say I have learned more from this experience than I have before in my seven years at EPA. While the fire is out, now the real work begins. I will keep you posted.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.