Imagine it is 3 a.m. on a Wednesday morning: The streets of Hall County are pretty empty, except for a tractor-trailer carrying hundreds of containers of highly flammable liquid down Thompson Bridge Road.
The weary driver underestimates a narrow turn, but overcorrects the action, causing the speeding truck to flip over, spilling its contents all along the road. Sparks from the accident ignite the liquid.
Flames from the fire alone pose a serious threat to the surrounding community, but coupled with the noxious fumes from the burning chemicals, the accident has the potential to paralyze an entire city. Although it can’t prevent accidents like this from happening, the Hall County Local Emergency Planning Committee is working to ensure that should such a situation arise, local crews would be prepared to handle the fallout.
The committee, which is composed of emergency officials and business owners, is busy working to update its hazardous material spill plan.
"We need to begin reaching out to industries to see what hazmat cleanup materials they have available. We can use that information to create a resource manual that we can go to and see what’s available in case of an emergency," said William Wright, Hall County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
The committee also is busy compiling a list of what hazardous materials are stored in, or pass through, Hall County. Wright says that such a list will help emergency crews be better prepared to handle emergency situations, if they know the type of hazards they are up against.
As committee members pointed out during the meeting, hazardous materials aren’t limited strictly to large industries; they can also be found in unexpected places like grocery stores and restaurants. Given the correct combination of environmental conditions, items such as bottles of bleach or cooking oil could become hazardous if not stored properly.
In addition to preparing for hazardous spills, Wright also warned those in attendance to prepare a defensive strategy against another problem that has the potential to affect the entire community: the H1N1 flu virus.
"The CDC has come out with staggering numbers; they report that close to 90,000 people could die this year as a result of the H1N1 virus," he said. "We don’t want this to be like Hurricane Katrina when everyone said that, ‘No one warned us." We don’t know how bad it will be, but as businesses, it’s important that we are prepared."