Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2013 Vol. 60 No. 6

DC JOSH ROBERTS' DEPLOYMENT TO THE FERTILIZER PLANT EXPLOSION IN WEST, TEXAS

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The West Fertilizer Plant Explosion will forever be an incident etched into the minds and hearts of all Texans.  The sudden, tragic loss of life and resulting injuries & property damage has caused all of us to pause and reflect.  The West Fertilizer Plant Explosion is one of those incidents where we will all one day tell the story of “where we were, when”.  The following is a guest editorial on an incident deployment to West, TX, from the perspective of District Coordinator (DC) Josh Roberts with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).


Initial Notification
Late in the evening hours on April 17th I received a text from a colleague who lived in the southern part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that read, “Was there an explosion? We felt a boom all throughout the county.” After a quick search on social media returned various images of a billowing cloud of black smoke over the town of West, and after a phone call to DPS Communications had confirmed the incident… I knew then I was in for a long night. However, the “go-bag” stays packed and us DCs are always ready and willing to go to work - it’s what the job is all about.

Initial Response
Being the closest DC to the incident I was one of the first deployed.  While en route, the team of DCs and State Coordinators (SCs) that were responding to West utilized our mobile satellite (MSAT) radios to provide status checks and briefings on known information.  I have to say, the MSATs worked very well to this effect and the use of these communication devices would be the first of many “best practices” or “lessons learned” confirmed during this deployment.  The MSATs allowed TDEM personnel from various parts of the State to have common communications and engage in talk-around.

Incident Arrival
When I arrived to the Incident Command Post (ICP) the first thing I noticed was the considerable amount of responders and response agencies that had already arrived.  Through the haze of fire smoke, flashing emergency lights had lit up the night sky.  It is difficult to determine the exact amount of responders and agencies that very first night but I would guess that there were probably more than 100 agencies with various types of apparatus present.  I’m sure you’ve heard the term before, but it was “organized chaos”.  The incident and presence of agencies across the State had quickly overwhelmed the local community.  But through the application of true Texas teamwork and collaboration, the major response actions including evacuations, triage, treatment & transport, fire suppression, search & rescue, and scene security were being performed valiantly.

Incident Management
Beginning very early that first night, it became evident that additional resources and teams would be necessary to ensure the safety and efficiency of incident response.  In addition to responding TDEM staff, there were command trailers, incident management teams, WebEOC support staff and other technical specialists that were ordered up to assist and support the local Incident Commander and Disaster District Committee Chair.  All resources showed up ready for work in the hopes they could provide valuable assistance in curbing the spread of the impact felt by the community, and in the hopes of helping the community deal with this tragic incident.

Teamwork: Texas Style
During my deployment to West it became evident that the incident response community assembled here in Texas is top notch. From State agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Highway Patrol, to local agencies such as McLennan County and the City of Hillsboro, and to other partners such as Texas Task Force 1 & 2 and volunteer organizations like Team Rubicon, and to all other agencies in between…the State of Texas is ready to respond no matter the situation.

West

The Community of West, TX
In addition to the responding agencies, perhaps the most undeniable lesson I learned is that the people of West, Texas are the salt of the earth. The West, Texas community embodies what it truly means to be a Texan. In the face of tragedy and in the midst of loss, they never faltered. I heard countless stories of West citizens helping each other, and saw first-hand the ability of the community to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get to work. To the good folks of West: Texas stands behind you. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.

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