Photo from last night’s TV news broadcast used with permission of WCPO.
A day after chemical plant incident, residents again urged to enroll in county's emergency notification network
COVINGTON, Ky. – Just after 8:15 Monday evening, a ferocious “boom” could be heard throughout West Latonia, rattling windows and raising anxiety levels.
Soon thereafter, the news arrived via phone calls, texts, and emails:
Firefighters were on the scene of the Interplastic Corporation plant on Latonia Avenue, handling a “fire incident.” Residents who lived within 1 mile of the plant (which technically is in Fort Wright but borders Latonia) were advised to remain indoors and leave doors and windows closed until an “all clear” was given.
In essence, the CodeRED emergency alert system had been activated.
What is CodeRED?
The high-speed mass-notification system is used during emergencies such as tornadoes and chemical spills to alert residents of Kenton County (and thus Covington) of potential danger and to pass on instruction.
City officials say Monday’s incident – the details of which are below – serves as a reminder that all residents should sign up to receive the alerts.
“It’s the fastest way to provide critical information to large numbers of people in an emergency situation, and I strongly encourage every resident to enroll,” Covington Fire Chief Mark Pierce said. “In the old days, we’d have to go door-to-door, banging on doors and hoping we could get someone to come to the door so we could have a conversation. But that was slow and inefficient.”
- For more information and to sign up, click HERE, or download the CodeRED app for free from the iPhone App store or the Android Google Play store.
- Residents can receive free alerts via phone call, text, or email. To some degree they can pick what types of alerts they receive.
- The alerts can include warnings about severe weather, flash floods, chemical spills, hazardous traffic situations, evacuation notices, boil water advisories, AMBER alerts, and even situations where law enforcement is chasing a dangerous individual through a neighborhood.
- Put in place in 2017, it’s managed by Kenton County Homeland Security Emergency Management and it works through the Kenton County Emergency Communications Center.
- Emergency personnel can tailor alerts to specific areas, whether that’s countywide, citywide, a few blocks or a few streets.
Last evening, the initial alert was sent to residents within a mile of the plant as a precaution, Pierce said.
The initial belief is that equipment failure caused pressure to build up in a tank containing a polyester resin, and its release caused the “boom” heard by neighbors, Pierce said. Some insulation on the tank (and on the floor around it) caught fire, but firefighters from Fort Wright and Covington were able to quickly put out those small fires.
The liquified resin solidified as it was exposed to air, causing a barrier that generated heat and caused pressure to build up again. As that pressure was released, periodically other “booms” could be heard, Pierce said.
Firefighters cooled down the tanks and monitored the situation, he said. Monitoring devices showed that no dangerous fumes were being emitted.
“We felt very comfortable that there was no issue of danger to the neighborhood,” he said. “What we call the ‘hot zone’ was only about 150 feet, and the ‘warm zone’ was 1,000 feet.”
Nevertheless, officials were cautious.
Shortly after midnight, the shelter-in-place warning was reduced to those who lived within 1,000 feet of the plant, and that warning was totally lifted about 5:30 a.m.
“If anything had changed and the threat had grown, people would have been told,” Pierce said.
Covington fire officials will offer assistance to Fort Wright officials to investigate the cause of the incident and determine exactly what happened and how the response to it can be improved, the chief said. County emergency management officials and the state environmental protection officials are also involved.
Covington officials will continue to press the case for safe operations at the Fort Wright plant, as they have for decades.
In the meantime, any resident who isn’t signed up in the county’s CodeRED system should do so.
“CodeRED is a valuable system, but it’s only as good as the contact information in its database,” Pierce said.
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