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War room' poised to act in local alert


<-- Shrubbed
<-- TerrorSpeak
<-- Right-to-Know or Left-to-Wonder?
<-- MapCruzin News

There are 123 facilities nationwide at which the release of a toxic cloud could pose a threat to at least a million people nearby, according to EPA.

Source: Go Memphis

War room' poised to act in local alert

By Tom Charlier
[email protected]
March 19, 2003

Citing stepped-up security imperatives as the nation girds for war, Memphis-area authorities on Tuesday boosted patrols at bridges, chemical plants and other potential terrorist targets and activated a command center to share intelligence.

A day after the Bush administration declared an "Orange" alert signifying the second-highest possible threat level for terrorism, officials refocused their attention on 28 Shelby County facilities - believed to include Mississippi River bridges and area chemical plants - deemed likely targets.

"We've raised our alert and increased security at some specific areas," said Clint Buchanan, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.

Authorities also set up a "war room" - complete with computers and phone lines to serve some 15 agencies - at emergency management headquarters on Avery.

Across the Mid-South, similar steps were under way. At the advice of federal officials, Tennessee authorities tightened security at two Memphis rail bridges and a Chattanooga chemical plant, while Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck abee moved to protect "critical assets" and Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove declared a state of emergency.


The measures occurred as federal officials issued a report highlighting the possible vulnerability of the chemical industry - which has a sizable Memphis presence - to terrorism.

The General Accounting Office said chemical facilities might make attractive targets and noted there are no federal laws requiring industries to assess their vulnerabilities or improve security.

The GAO report recommends that the secretary of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator jointly direct a "national chemical security strategy."

There are 123 facilities nationwide at which the release of a toxic cloud could pose a threat to at least a million people nearby, according to EPA.

Because of its location in an intensely agricultural area along the Mississippi, Memphis is home to a number of large chemical plants and a sprawling petroleum refinery.

Federal figures show that 75 Shelby County companies - many in heavily populated areas - handled a total of 165 million pounds of hazardous waste in 2000.

"The biggest shortcoming so far is that the federal government has no plan to protect communities from these chemical plants," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"Highly hazardous materials are used in close proximity to people."

In Memphis, Velsicol Chemical Corp., which reported maintaining more than 1 million pounds of chlorine on site, has been among companies handling large amounts of hazardous materials. The Williams Companies refinery - recently purchased by Premcor Inc. - has had more than 100,000 pounds of highly dangerous hydrogen fluoride at its facility.

But local industry leaders say they've dramatically tightened security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We've done a lot of things as far as refining and improving our security," said Greg Zweig, site environmental coordinator for the DuPont Co.'s Memphis plant.

Lisa Wheeler, spokesman for the Premcor refinery, said the facility has hired consultants to review its security measures.

"We do have some new things in place as the threat level changes," she said.

Buchanan said local authorities are basing their security decisions largely on reports from the FBI.


"We're just not going to overreact. . . ." he said. "We're just doing the best we can on the intelligence we've got."

Memphis police spokesman LaTanya Able said city authorities "have our plan in place" to respond to the higher threat level.

Maj. Gen. Jerry Humble, Tennessee director of homeland security, said after taking steps to increase the visibility of security at three sites in Tennessee, he feels confident the state is prepared.

At the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridges in Memphis and the DPC Enterprises chemical factory in Chattanooga, security was increased on the advice of federal officials, Humble said.

"(Federal authorities) asked that we help protect some strategic U.S. infrastructure,'' Humble said. "We have no known terrorist cells in Tennessee at this time . . . but we're prepared.''

- Tom Charlier: 529-2572

- Staff reporter Sam Youngman and Nashville bureau chief Richard Locker contributed to this article.

<-- Shrubbed
<-- TerrorSpeak
<-- Right-to-Know or Left-to-Wonder?
<-- MapCruzin News

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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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