It was about 2:40 in the early morning of January 6, 2005 when Norfolk Southern Railway Train #192 which left Macon, Georgia missed a switch in Graniteville, South Carolina and ran into a parked automobile in the vicinity. The collision of the train and the car shattered one of the train’s tank cars. The train was carrying 90 tons of chlorine. A plume of chlorine gas went across the northern part of the town. Nine people died in the incident due to chlorine inhalation. More than 550 people were brought to hospitals for medical assistance. Mandatory evacuation was ordered to residents within a radius of one mile from the site of the incident. About 5,400 residents were made to evacuate the area and came back home only after a week when it was safe to stay home once again. The media broadcasted the incident hours of the collision.
The Graniteville incident was an example of a hazardous technological disaster. The chemical spill which ushered chlorine inhalation was a potential danger that posed threats to the lives of people living around the vicinity. Technological hazards can bring about immediate and instantaneous dangers. Thus, it is quite important for people who experience the dangers to evacuate at once. People are more convinced to leave the vicinity of danger and peril and are more willing to evacuate during such incidents because the incidents are experienced at the moment and they know that this potential danger could take lives in a matter of minutes, even seconds. Thus, in technological hazards such as the Graniteville incident, people are more alarmed of the impending risk that can happen at the moment. Their willingness to evacuate comes with their value of saving their own lives and keeping their family safe; away from the vicinity of endangerment and threats. Immediate timing and scheduling is very important in the evacuation plan. In disasters brought about by chemical spills, time is precious and valuable. Every minute of action and every step in the process of evacuation count. The plan should compose of strategies that are timely, realistic and viable in order to ensure proper emergency evacuation. The success of an evacuation lies in a thorough plan. Unlike in instances of natural disasters like typhoons and hurricanes, warnings are served before the onset of dangers. Sometimes, because people do not immediately experience the onslaught of hurricanes and other natural disasters that are yet to happen, they become lenient and their willingness to evacuate are not whole-hearted because they feel that the danger has not come yet. Some people are also concerned with the properties that they will leave upon evacuation.
Media plays a vital role in the broadcast of disasters. Radio, television, print media, and the social media are venues for information dissemination during disasters and even before a natural disaster may occur, like for example, the occurrence of hurricanes. The roles of media in disasters also include not only supplying information and important advisories, alerts and directions to the affected public but they also focus on relevant preparedness methods and strategies that can be employed for future experiences. In times of disasters, media can also promote and encourage acts of volunteerism among the people. They become a venue for promoting the values of kindness and generosity among people, promoting goodwill and benevolence. The media can also encourage the need for governmental response and future planning and policy-making in terms of disaster preparedness and the reduction of risks brought about by calamities and other dangers.
The media played a positive role during the Graniteville incident. The media helped in reporting immediate happenings in the vicinity, letting the public and the world know that a danger had occurred in the area. It reported physical damage, number and demographics of victims, impact of the accident and the range of the incident. The media informed the citizens within the locality of the potential dangers that the accident would even influence to the remaining part of the area. The media provide important disaster management public service to the public. They provided important alerts, warnings, and advisories.
However, the media has also various lapses during the Graniteville incident. The media, with their want and desire to get the latest updates and issues on the incident, they tended to complicate, delay, or confuse the work of emergency management. Some media also looked for another angle of the story, particularly a controversial or sensational one. This translated into provocative issues that created political bickering and blames. To limit the negative roles of media, as an emergency manager, one should lay down the real score on disasters.
Controversial coverages of media during disasters are counterproductive. They are often unpleasant and they create tension and strain in the emergency management process. When media are more interested in looking for controversial information and they tend to look for the sensational side of the incident, as if focusing on a particular sector to blame. Sometimes, media can create an understanding or a thinking among the public based on their negative reports and this can make matters more complicated, especially during the onset of disaster, evacuation and emergency response. When media tries to sensationalize things during emergencies, this can lead to friction between the media and the members of the emergency management. It is not good when emergency management personnel are trying to save lives and on the other side, the media tries to create sensational and controversial issues that do not redound to the immediate response of the emergency situation. When media gets in the way of the whole emergency management process, then they tend to be negative partners, rather than positive allies.
On the other hand, we know that we cannot do away with media during disasters because the media plays an important role in the whole emergency management, in terms of information dissemination. While the immediate concern of evacuation managers during emergencies is the safety of the people, one must deal with the questions, queries and issues of the media because they also have an important role to play in information dissemination. In times of disasters, media advisories are important as well. One must deal with media with respect, full attention, truthfulness and accuracy of the situation. However, when media tends to get in the way of the emergency process and evacuation control, they must be dealt with subtle aggression.
An emergency manager would know if the potential threat of a certain disaster is serious or alarming. In the Graniteville incident, emergency managers saw the need for immediate evacuation of the locals within one mile radius from the vicinity and even two-mile radius from the incident. As emergency manager, I would also take the proper precautionary measures and guidelines in evacuating the public. I will use proper practices, simulations and regulations in dealing with evacuation. Evacuation is a very delicate operation. It involves logistics that are needed to be thoroughly planned. I will also recommend immediate evacuation of the people, especially within the one mile radius. To do this, I will consider planning first. I will think about personal situations of the public, equipment and facilities needed and the appropriate process and stages of evacuation, including resources and funding needed. I will also think of the appropriate agencies, companies and partners that could help in the whole emergency response.
The outline was very good, but I needed something more pertaining to Weapons of Mass Destruction, such as an chemical agent that terrorist would use. My course is Weapons of Mass Destruction so food contamination would not fall into that category