GRANDVIEW – A major threat to Yakima County’s various municipalities is the possibility of an anhydrous ammonia release.
That’s because of the many agricultural processors that operate facilities in the valley.
Grandview is no exception, and Charles Irwin of the Yakima County emergency management office has been working with officials from the city’s police and fire departments to develop disaster response and recovery plans.
Last night (Tuesday) during the Grandview City Council study session he outlined the work that has been completed.
“This plan goes beyond the state and federal levels,” said Irwin.
He said it is important for each city to have its own plan because emergencies start at the location of origin. State and federal agencies respond later.
“This is where it really happens,” Irwin said, gesturing to the council.
Using a chemical fire at Grandview’s Wilbur-Ellis plant in February 2005 as an example, he said disaster response and recovery plans can alleviate much confusion.
“The Wilbur-Ellis fire was a bit of a wake-up call,” said Irwin.
He said the city of Grandview must be accountable in the event of an emergency. Having a plan in place helps the process, giving city leaders direction.
Looking at the city council, Irwin told the group it must look at the potential impact of a disaster.
“You cannot get in the way of the first responders,” he said, noting it is a natural desire to want to be on the scene, but such actions can cause more disruption.
Irwin said it is the fire department’s responsibility to establish a safety perimeter and communicate with the police department. The police department evaluates the safety perimeter and establishes road blocks to keep citizens and motorists safe.
He said commerce may be impacted by the incident, too. If so, it is up to council members to communicate with businesses and citizens when their lives are disrupted.
The fire chief may decide evacuations are necessary and it is the council’s responsibility to decide if evacuations are called for when a precautionary zone is established.
Council, too, must communicate with special population centers, such as nursing homes and the school district, said Irwin.
That notification will allow authorities on the premises to decide what measures are necessary.
“In-place sheltering is preferred, but someone must manage the situation,” said Irwin.
Grandview is one of 14 cities in Yakima County. Irwin said each city, with the exception of Granger, has worked with him to develop disaster response and recovery plans.
There are specified roles for different departments within the city of Grandview and those roles are spelled out in individualized packets.
Irwin said Toppenish has also adopted an emergency powers act that provides special authority in the event of an emergency.
Grandview City Clerk Anita Palacios said the city of Grandview also adopted such an act in 2007 that gives the mayor the power to enact curfews, business closures, the prohibition of liquor sales and more (GMC 9.40).
“The responsibilities (of staff) can change,” Irwin said, stating the disaster response and recovery plan can be amended and further tailored to meet the needs of the city.
He said the sole purpose of the plan is public safety.
“It takes the comprehensive plan just a step further.”