What to do in an industrial emergency

What to do in an industrial emergency
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - Do you know what to do in an industrial emergency? That's the question everyone is asking after Wednesday nights panic due to a decompression boom at Westlake Chemical in Sulphur. 7News published a special report on the topic in 2017 but wanted to give residents a reminder after the pressure release caused fear for some in SWLA.

It's the middle of the night - you're asleep in your bed - and a siren goes off. No doubt, your instinct tells you it's an emergency.

But what are you supposed to do?

As part of routine testing, 39 sirens are tested every Monday around noon in Calcasieu Parish.

But what if one sounded right now - not during its routine testing? Would you know what to do? Better yet, what would you do? Residents gave varied answers.

"The siren, as I say, is warning you that there is something going on," said Dick Gremillion, director of Calcasieu's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

He said a siren sounding at an irregular time is cause for concern.

"If you hear a siren in your neighborhood that you know is tested every Monday - and it's not on Monday - there is an emergency," said Gremillion.

So, under what conditions does a siren go off?

"The siren system is primarily set up for chemical emergencies. It could be used for other things like weather but unless it's a dire emergency, we try not to because we don't want to confuse people over what the signals mean," explained Gremillion.

Here's what you need to know: If you hear a siren, go indoors, close your windows and doors and turn to your news media to see what is going on.

And, sirens aren't the only form of alerts anymore.

"The sirens are just part of our warning system nowadays. Back in the '80s when the siren system was first put into use, that was the warning system," said Gremillion.

With changes in technology, he said they now have other ways of alerting residents of any danger, like the telephone ring down, which delivers a phone message to your landline. There's also CalcaShout which sends a voice, text, or email message to your phone or to your computer.

While a siren only alerts you to an emergency, Rob Daughdril, the parish's emergency response coordinator,  said the ring down and CalcaShout provide you with detailed information. Plus, bad things can happen in the middle of the night.

"The sirens are not going to wake you up all the time but that phone will in the middle of the night. And if we have an emergency, we want you to wake up and take action," said Daughdril.

Case in point - a chemical release several years ago.

"It happened early one morning. And people did not know about it until they woke up the next morning and stepped out their doors and smelled the chlorine leak and went back inside and called us and we had to do a shelter in place for that whole neighborhood," said Daughdril.

Ultimately, the more options, the more people they can reach.

Daughdril said even though they've come a long way - some 40,000 now subscribed to CalcaShout - but they'd like to see everyone sign up by going to www.calcashout.com.

It gives you the option to provide as little or as much information as you'd like.

Another resource for cell phone users is NIXLE. You can sign up for alerts by sending a text to 888777 with your zip code.

"It's very important that you know what's going on so you can take appropriate actions to save you and your family," said Daughdril.

Daughdril and Gremillion said they also have a few federal programs up their sleeves like I-PAWS, which allows them to override systems and target specific locations using cell towers to ping phones in that geographic spot in situations like a chemical release, search and rescue, or notification of things that may be happening in the community that would affect everybody's ability to get around.

So, to recap, the key number to remember is 3. You have three options for alerts: sirens, a landline call, and CalcaShout. When you receive word of an emergency, take 3 steps: go indoors, shut doors and windows, and tune into local media.

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