The Tyler County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) met Thursday in the Sistersville Fire Hall. During the meeting, Noble Energy led a training regarding Globally Harmonized System Pictograms (GHSP), which are used to indicate types of hazardous materials. The pictograms will reportedly give those who come into contact with chemicals an idea of the hazards that are present.
"My background is emergency management," explained Darren Dodson of Noble Energy. "I've been with the fire department, EMS, and law enforcement. I understand that sometimes information falls through the cracks."
He said that while Noble Energy employees have already been trained, the company's goal is to make first responders aware of the new system. He said total compliance for GHSP must be in place by June 15, 2015.
He then introduced Chris Walton, who joined Noble Energy in July. She cited her experience of eight years in the oil and gas industry, as well as more than 20 years seeing to safety matters.
She explained that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was responsible for adopting the new hazard communication standard detailing with peoples' right to know and understand what chemicals are in the products they work with and use.
"OSHA adopted this United Nations system in 2012," said Walton. "They wanted to make it worldwide and make sure you would have the same system overseas."
Recognizing the possibility of confusion in the beginning, she said taking measures to learn the new system should make the transition easier. She explained the separate pictogram symbols and what they mean, as well as the numbers coinciding with each one.
Walton defined a hazardous chemical as anything capable of causing injury or death to an employee or polluting land, air, and water.
"We just recognized everything as being a hazardous material unless it's water," she said of that definition. "Most chemicals are considered a hazardous material according to OSHA."
She pointed to a GHSP card that was also provided to each committee member.
"Currently we have labels on our chemicals, and sometimes we have these numbers," she said. "There's going to be a big change in the numbering system. I want to make sure you understand how to interpret these numbers."
She said that manufacturers are required to have certain labels on their products, and some labels may change or remain the same during the transitional period.
"In industry, employers need to make sure they train their employees on this information," she said. "As employees, we need to understand how to use that information to keep ourselves safe."
She also explained Material Safety Data Sheets, a large part of hazard communication that will soon simply be known as Safety Data Sheets.
"They give you in depth information about the material itself," she said. "You can get one of these (data sheets) for every single material that's made."
According to Walton, being familiar with such information can increase response time, as well as safety measures taken to both prevent and handle emergencies.
"There are so many things to know when you go out in the field and look at a tank that's labeled with different information," she said. "You need to know how to process that information and respond to it."
Also at the meeting, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director and LEPC Co-chair Tom Cooper mentioned the recent truck wreck on state Route 2 in Sistersville, in which responders had to deal with a caustic chemical leak. Noting that 2014 is dedicated to mass communications, he said that the accident became a test of communications.
"We got things moving really quickly," he said. "The fire departments were right on it. It started around 3 p.m. and we were there until midnight."
He also mentioned that A & A Supply was quick in providing materials that responders set down to soak up the spilled sodium hydroxide. While the wreck caused no injuries, he noted how fortunate they were.
"I'm glad he (the driver) didn't have a passenger, because the guardrail cut right through the cab," he said.
While the road was shut off for regular traffic, they kept the lane somewhat open in case an emergency vehicle needed through.
"Public notification was important there," said Cooper.
He also cited an event on Jan. 28 when Tyler County Dispatch called around 5:30 a.m. to inform him that half of the county was without power. This was during a time when the temperature was a negative 12 degrees.
"Unfortunately one tree (falling) shut the whole network down," he said. "They were able to have power on at 8 a.m. We didn't have to deploy resources on that."
He described another incident that could benefit from better mass communications.
"Friendly Public Service District (PSD) had a waterline burst," he said. "They fixed one area and the line would burst somewhere else."
Cooper said he was not aware until four days after that the water had been shut off to a section of Tyler County. Once he was made aware, he contacted Greg Goodfellow, who operates Knights Radio, and they immediately put a public service announcement on the school radio station. After that, they sent the information out on Facebook.
E-911 Supervisor Josh Fulks suggested using dispatch to alert people over scanners. Noting that a lot of people listen to scanners, Cooper said that was a good idea.
"When these guys (Friendly PSD) have these kind of problems, they need help, and we can help them," said Cooper. "If we get this public notification system where it should be, we can let our people know. In this particular case, they know who needs to be notified."
Representatives of Friendly PSD explained that 52 of 927 customers were affected by the water outage. Although stating that it was a small portion of their overall service, they recognized that not having water creates a large problem. They said they were unable to contact all of the affected customers.
"We can work with you on that," said Cooper.
He proposed using an automatic calling or email system in such situations. However, he stated that there were currently problems with the service, which is supposed to call eight lines at a time and send out bulk emails. He said that their CriPos engineer is looking at ways to improve the system.
He said that Frontier Communications has an automatic "brute force lockout" on bulk emails that exceed their limits. Another problem was that bulk emails often go straight to spam.
Mike Walker of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management advised using the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS). He said that Tyler County's application has been approved by State Homeland Security and is going to the federal level for approval. When it is approved, it will give OEM the ability to send alerts to private phones.
"That's coming," he said. "I wish I could tell you when,"
The IPAWS system connects with radio stations, cell phones, turnpike signs, and other mass notification systems. It can be used for a multitude of events, large and small.
"We're happy to help any time you have to get the word out," said Tyler County Superintendent of Schools Robin Daquilante. "We (the school's automatic calling system) have a target audience of 1,677 people. This is a small community and word travels. We (the schools) also have a Facebook page that has 1,500 subscribers. We can get the word out any time anyone has an emergency."
Daquilante also relayed that she was contacted by people who were happy to see different groups working together. Cooper mentioned their goal to get a generator onsite at the school radio station tower.
Cooper updated the group on the new OEM website, tylerwv.com. It has sections for weather based on figures from the National Weather Service. He said they can also set aside other sections for different public entities relating to emergency management. The site displays past and current OEM and LEPC activities.
A National Guardsman was present at the meeting. He listed some of the services they can offer in the event of an emergency. The National Guard and LEPC will also reportedly be cooperating during future training exercises.
"We're honored to have the National Guard with us," said Cooper. "Hopefully they're going to be able to follow us through these meetings. They have a lot of things that interlace with what we do. In a disaster, they're right there with us working shoulder to shoulder."
Committee member Al Tuttle made the group aware that the Baptist Church in Friendly has set up a shelter. Cooper said he would like all shelters to coordinate with the LEPC.
"Shelters just pop up, and if emergency management knows it we can direct people there," he said.
Entities present at the meeting included: Middlebourne EMS, Middlebourne Fire Department, Wetzel-Tyler Health Department, Tyler County Schools, Tyler County Board of Education, Tyler County Commission, Tyler County Courthouse, Dominion, Search and Rescue, Community Emergency Response Team, Monongahela Power, Dana Transport, Tyler County 911, Sistersville Fire Department, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Noble Energy, Friendly Public Service District, and the National Guard.
Noble Energy sponsored breakfast, which was prepared by the Sistersville Ladies Fire Auxiliary. Cooper informed members that their companies and organizations can sponsor breakfast as a tax write off.
LEPC meetings are generally held on the first Thursday of every month at 9 a.m. in the Sistersville Fire Hall.