The incident that occurred on April 23rd at 0753 involving an explosion at a soda bottling plant was handled poorly by officials and the incident management team; however, this evaluation does not reflect the efforts of the rescue workers, themselves. Though the management of the incident was poorly thought out and implemented, the incident was brought under control within just a few hours.
The biggest problem to impact the response to this large incident was the failure of local, county, and state officials to prepare a plan to deal with incidents of this type and scope. Once rescue officials were informed of the incident, a plan had to be constructed and implemented. This delayed rescue, firefighting, evacuation, and containment efforts. Also, logistics were negatively impacted by not having predesignated resources identified to respond on a contingency basis (Walsh et al., 2012). All supplies and specialized resources needed to be sought during the active incident response. This took valuable time and delayed efforts. Further, evacuations were not planned for and resulted in public confusion and unwarranted distress that complicated the overall evacuation effort (Walsh et al., 2012).
In addition, planning was negatively impacted by a number of other failures, including the loss of cellular communications which was detrimental to the situational picture. A further planning failure allowed the weather to change dramatically without forewarning to the rest of the incident management team. This drastic misstep resulted in a loss of incident control and was detrimental to firefighting efforts (Walsh et al., 2012).
However, the most telling feature of this incident is the incident management team member who left his post in dereliction to attend to his family. This action only served to cause alarm amongst the other team members and required staffing augmentations that took time away from actual management of the incident (Walsh et al., 2012).
These failures, among others, manifest themselves as added difficulty to an already complex incident. Lives may have been jeopardized, as well as the health of the public as evidenced by the surge in emergency room visits in the months following the incident (Walsh et al., 2012).
Though there were mistakes made, some features of this incident are to be lauded. First, mutual aid agreements allowed for a multi-jurisdictional response across five counties, including state resources. Though these resources were hampered in large part by the failures in preplanning and mitigation, they did succeed in controlling the incident in just a few hours, facing poor weather conditions and prolonged extrication of trapped victims.
According to Walsh et al. (2012), responders at every level and in every capacity need to be involved in preparation, mitigation, training, exercising, evaluation, and improvement of response efforts. By having an updated plan in place that all responders are familiar with and integrating a unified incident management effort, most large scale incidents can be resolved systematically without any further threat to lives or property. Responders need to be prepared and capable to handle all emergencies, large and small.
Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.