SIKESTON - Although the Southeast Missouri Hazardous Materials Team is being formed during a "time of heightened awareness," plans for the regional haz-mat emergency team predate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to Drew Juden, Sikeston's director of public safety.
"We'd been working on this long before anything happened in New York or Washington - this is not a knee-jerk reaction to that," Juden said, although recent events without a doubt "prove the need is out there."
The Sikeston Department of Public Safety and Jackson Fire Department have worked for approximately two years to establish the regional hazardous materials response unit which will operate under the current statewide fire mutual aid system which allows emergency services agencies to assist each other in times of need. Juden and Jackson Fire Chief Brad Golden serve as co-coordinators for the team.
The Jackson Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance formally establishing the relationship under the mutual aid agreement during their Monday meeting. The Sikeston City Council is slated to approve their bill authorizing the agreement at the Nov. 5 meeting.
Juden said all DPS officers already receive basic training in hazardous materials responses and 11 DPS officers are currently trained to technician level for haz-mat emergency responses. "We have a pretty good capacity right now," said Juden.
The regional haz-mat emergency team, however, will ensure enough people are available to deal with those emergencies which can be "manpower intensive" requiring larger numbers of officers at the scene and keeping them there for extended periods, Juden said.
While Southeast Missouri has the potential for serious incidents due to the large number of interstate highways, railroads and industrial sites which use hazardous materials located in the area, the closest operational haz-mat emergency response teams are in the St. Louis and Memphis areas.
The regional haz-mat emergency team will receive support from each county's Local Emergency Planning Committees.
Joe Burton, 911 administrator for Scott County, said LEPCs are primarily for public education on hazardous materials but also provide training for responders. "Planning is the big thing," said Burton. "Our LEPC went a step further and purchased trailers with hazardous materials containment supplies on them."
The LEPC haz-mat trailers have "been a real plus," according to Juden, and will be an asset to the Southeast Missouri Hazardous Materials Team.
Officially forming the regional hazardous materials response unit will also make it eligible for $250,000 in equipment through a federal weapons of mass destruction response group program made available through the State Emergency Management Agency, said Juden.
Juden confirmed the equipment will include decontamination showers and other tools to deal with biological and chemical attacks that have been discussed as possibilities for future terrorist action as well as for nuclear and other radioactive weapons of mass destruction.
Although Juden would like to have had the equipment "yesterday," he hopes the team will receive it within 60 to 90 days.
Area residents concerned about anthrax scares across the nation and locally shouldn't panic, Juden said, as the greatest threat is from the fear generated by the unknown and misinformation. "Don't go crazy with this stuff."
In this area, an overturned train or tractor-trailer carrying a chemical like chlorine or anhydrous is a much more likely scenario than a mass infection of anthrax or other biological-chemical terrorist assaults.
Nevertheless, Juden said area officials have in place a regional response plan for these types of calls or threats involving coordination of area law enforcement, fire fighters and other emergency responders.
If someone does have a concern about a package or piece of mail, Juden recommended they call DPS's non-emergency number at 471-4711 instead of 911.
Information from the Southeast Missourian was used in this article.