Port Arthur News Sun Apr 10,
2011, 11:55 AM CPORT ARTHUR — Two environmental
justice groups are at odds with emergency management officials in the city of
Port Arthur regarding ways to alert citizens in the event of an industrial
Hilton Kelley of the Community In-power and Development Association and the Global
Community Monitor issued a statement recently challenging oil companies for
failing to offer neighbors in lower income areas equal protection from toxic
spills by providing siren warning systems.
The groups point to what they call a double standard from companies such as
Shell and Chevron which support warning sirens for toxic spills in more
affluent communities such as the San Francisco Bay area in California but
oppose them in low-income communities of color, such as Port Arthur.
But Port Arthur Police Maj. John Owens, who is the city’s emergency management
coordinator, disagrees. Owens feels the city’s current alerting system is
Southeast Texas Alerting System, of STAN, is a ring-down system allows local
emergency management officials and industry leaders in Jefferson, Hardin and
Orange Counties to share information directly with the public via telephone and
text message during emergency events occurring in Southeast Texas.
STAN was developed by local emergency planning committees in the multi-county
area in partnership with Industry of Southeast Texas.
In the event of an emergency situation, the ring-down system calls commercial
and home phones in the area to alert citizens. Cell phones can also be
registered with STAN as well by logging on to thestan.com
The public can also call into STAN to hear information posted by industry such
as incidents regarding flaring. STAN can also send an alert about extraordinary
weather events, large traffic accidents, truck spills and rail car derailments.
Owens offered, for example, a recent incident where STAN was used to alert
persons who live near the fenceline of Total of the completion of an expansion
The STAN system was also used during a January 2009 ship-barge collision that
caused about 450,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the Sabine -Neches
Waterway near the Port of Port Arthur.
“I was in Houston when the Eagle Otome incident occurred. I posted an alert to
STAN while driving back to town,” Owens said of the system that sends instant
In addition, officers went door-to-door to notify residents in a grid area
affected by the incident, he said.
Kelley feels that the phone system isn’t enough.
“We are openly at odds in disagreement with effectiveness of the STAN system,”
Kelley said via phone. “One issue we have is if someone is outside and do not
have a cell phone with them and are not near a TV. What if they’re in the
garden or walking their kids or out talking with their neighbor. All of a
sudden there is a gas leak or chemical release at a refinery. The alert is set
to TV’s and phone and you don’t have your phone on you therefore, you will be
exposed to the chemical.”
An audible siren alert system would be a better way to notify all citizens in
the affected areas of the potential hazards, he said.
“We’re saying enough is enough. We need to use every tool possible to take
The activist also doesn’t buy in to the statement made by Owens that police
went door-to door and thousands of calls were made immediately.
“There are over 4,000 doors in the West Side. How can they knock door-to-door
as gas is being emitted,” Kelley said. “I don’t know of anyone who had a knock
on their door and nobody was called. I don’t know whose doors they knocked on.”
Owens feels an audible system such as a siren would cause nothing but chaos.
“Sirens, granted they are audible and people can hear it, tends to cause chaos
because they are not hearing any information along with the siren,” Owens said.
“Most people are inclined to go outside to see what’s going on if they hear a
Owens said Hazmat experts were on the scene of the incident measuring for
degrees of chemicals and the level never was “dangerous.”
It was a nuisance, not a hazard,” he said. “Our Mobile Command Unit was on the
scene at the Port of Port Arthur and TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality) was along with us taking readings themselves as well as an independent
monitoring source and we all had the same information. In no shape or form
would be put the citizens in harms way.”
Police and fire departments have the ability to activate sirens on their
vehicles and can use this system if necessary.
Kelley disagrees with Owens about sirens causing chaos. Educating the public
about an audible system would be the key. This could be done through public
service announcements, television, radio and physical programs here Maj. Owens
could demonstrate the system and make contact with the community.
The city of Port Arthur’s emergency management plan is comprehensive and
comprised of a basic plan and 23 annexes that address “any and every known
emergency in existence,” Owens said. The plan has received the highest
preparedness rating by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, he added.