In early December 2020, a large chemical plant explosion outside of Charleston, West Virginia, killed one plant worker and injured three others. Emergency services closely followed their emergency plans, calling Metro 9-1-1 to issue a shelter-in-place declaration and activate an emergency operations center.
The shelter-in-place alert was sent via calls to landlines and text alerts to cellphones in the area. However, there was a delay after the explosion before the alarm sounded. Additionally, the shelter-in-place alert did not contain instructions about what to do. As a result, there was panic.
This incident is a sobering lesson on the importance of maintaining updated emergency plans and practicing the plans so everyone knows how to react.
FEMA offers comprehensive preparedness guides to help state, local, tribal and territorial agencies to create their emergency plans. Guides are available on several topics, including evacuation and shelter-in-place, supply chain resilience, COVID-19, hazardous materials incidents, and complex coordinated terrorist attacks.
For example, the Planning Considerations: Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place guide advises jurisdictions to:
- Carefully shape all communications to use appropriate and accessible language and forms of media to provide evacuation and shelter-in-place information to the community. If this critical actionable information is not provided immediately, the public may panic.
- Identify and describe the actions needed to manage public information in the emergency operations plan.
- Conduct training and exercises to ensure that current and new personnel are familiar with the priorities, goals, objectives and courses of action.
Remember, all emergency operations plans should be “living documents” that are regularly updated and practiced.
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