Bhopal.net comment: Today we carried a press release from Bhopal, where survivors of the Union Carbide disaster staged a day’s fast in remembrance of Hiroshima. Corporations including Dow and Union Carbide were involved in the Manhattan Project that led to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Dow-made napalm rained fire on Vietnam, and Dow’s Agent Orange has maimed upwards of a million Vietnamese children. That is terrorism, naked and stark. Dow is a terrorist organisastion.
Mónica Guzmán, Midland Daily News, August 6, 2006
Regional first responders met with chemical experts Thursday to learn about the hazards of transporting volatile chemicals, a sign that local emergency management still is evolving in response to the fears and insecurities sparked by the 9-11 terrorist attacks nearly five years ago.
“We are much better now than we were before, and we get better all the time,” said Lt. Harry Partridge, district coordinator of emergency management for the Michigan State Police. “We had a good handle on accidents. We were woefully behind on people doing things on purpose – terrorism.”
Partridge spoke candidly with several first responders gathered at the workshop for Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response in Homer Township, sponsored by The Dow Chemical Co. and the Michigan Chemistry Council.
“As we hear occasionally on all the news channels and in the paper, there’s a threat to the transportation system,” Partridge said.
Michigan started sweeping reforms in its local emergency management after 9-11, following the rest of the country in using federal grants to purchase high-tech equipment and train fire and police officers to handle potential terrorist attacks.
State agencies have received millions in grants from the Homeland Security Department, which has funded the terrorism training of about 5,900 Michigan emergency officials since 9-11.
“We like to say (terrorism training) is like HazMat with an attitude,” he said.
The state Hazardous Materials center became the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Center in 2006 “to mirror our new responsibilities,” Partridge said, following a national trend among local emergency management agencies.
Dow officials say they are working with other chemical companies and transportation producers to make the hulls of railcars bulletproof, install fingerprint ID readers on highway transports and put GPS tracking systems on vehicles, in recognition of their stake in the threat.
Chemical companies also feel a greater obligation since the 9-11 attacks to inform first responders about how to handle chemical incidents, a goal of the biannual TransCAER workshops, said Jerry Howell, CEO of the Michigan Chemistry Council. For example, firefighters responding to a tank carrying liquid nitrogen should know that spraying water would heat, not cool, the -200-degree chemical.
“It’s important for large chemical companies to continue to monitor and be a part of (the discussion),” Howell said. “Crises come and go, but we stay here for the long haul.”
Dow has not had a transportation incident in 25 years, officials said, and they’d like to keep it that way in the post 9-11 world, despite the price tag: Dow will have spent half a billion dollars on security since 9-11 by the end of this year.
Yet even the most high-tech, costly security measures can be defeated by a threat as determined as terrorism, as security officials know all too well.
“If you’re willing to give your life for your cause, there’s nothing we can do,” said Gil Rider, chairman of Michigan TransCAER and distribution emergency response coordinator for Dow North America.
Still, it’s hard to put a price on preparation. Cooperation between agencies and communication with public and private interests remains a priority in facing new domestic terrorist threats, and already agencies have made encouraging progress, Partridge said.
First responders are better trained, better equipped and better prepared than they were 10 years ago, but in the wide-reaching climate of insecurity, the work might never be done.
“We will never be able to stop everyone,” Partridge said.