Officials ready to discuss emergency communication improvements in wake of Eastman Explosion


KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Saturday will mark one month since the explosions at Eastman Chemical Company's coal gassification plant in Kingsport. Officials in Kingsport and Sullivan County are now admitting that emergency communications with Eastman need to be improved.

Emergency advisory notifications and calls were not placed until almost two hours after the initial explosions. Those calls instructed people near Eastman to take shelter indoors and turn off ventilation systems. Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Bean said the delay was the result of a need for coordination between Eastman, Kingsport dispatch and Sullivan County dispatch.

"There was so much information going out," Bean said. "We didn't want to contradict between the city and the county."

In spite of officials' attempts to avoid confusion, social media spread several false rumors about the explosions. Hunter Salyer, who works in Kingsport, said he saw about ten different stories about the explosion on social media before he heard what had really happened. He thinks that official communication should have been faster.

"I believe they need to get a little bit quicker on it," Salyer said. "Get more serious about it."

Others agreed that a two hour delay was unacceptable.

"That's not ok because that's a hazard," Bradley Skeens, a co-worker of Salyer, said. "I mean, you know, that could've hurt a lot of people."

Bean agrees that communications need to improve and the response time needs to be faster.

"There was definitely a delay in response," Bean said. "Getting everyone together and trying to get a unified voice is something that needs to be done sooner, and I think everyone can admit that that needs to be done."

Kingsport Police Chief David Quillen voiced similar concerns to the city's Board of Mayor and Aldermen at a recent public meeting. At this time, however, he has declined to comment on what changes should be made or when he will meet with Eastman representatives to work on the issue.

Eastman spokespersons did indicate that there had been discussion of meeting with emergency response officials to work on reducing communication delay, but they said no meeting has been scheduled yet.

Eastman also indicated that hundreds of workers are making progress toward getting the coal gassification plant back online. In the days following the explosions, workers had to lay more than 3,000 feet of pipe to restore a gas line to the campus' production area.

One other emergency notification issue Bean noted was that calls can only be placed to land lines, which many people do not have anymore. He said one solution was to have Kingsport residents sign up for text alerts from Kingsport and Sullivan County, which allows emergency dispatchers to inform cell phone users of any major incidents. You can sign up for emergency notifications here.

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