Originally created 07/16/05

Graniteville disaster response is criticized



AIKEN - Although Aiken County emergency agencies responded quickly to the Graniteville train disaster on the morning of Jan. 6, lapses in communication and cooperation hindered recovery, a report has found.

A 13-page report released by Aiken County on Friday reveals that local agencies had problems talking with each other and coordinating their emergency response with other groups after an estimated 60 tons of chlorine spewed from a train tanker, killing nine people and forcing the evacuation of about 5,400.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said he is comfortable with the report's findings and he said he believes the county responded well to the disaster, although mistakes were made.

"When you have an accident of this size that happens so quickly, communication issues are not abnormal," Mr. Killian said. "That doesn't mean we don't want to make them better. We're going to take this report as it is and build upon it."

According to the report, actions often were taken without the knowledge or help of other groups working the disaster.

Other agencies already have released their "after action" reports, including the Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Fire Department and the sheriff's office.

Both received good marks for their response to the wreck and chlorine spill.

Aiken County's critique focused on the response of the emergency medical services, the sheriff's office, the county's hazardous materials team and the emergency management division.

The report found that local and federal agencies were sometimes unaware of what the others were doing in response to the accident.

For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency had no idea that the county's Emergency Operations Center was up and running.

Shelters were opened without the EOC's coordination or the knowledge of the American Red Cross or department of social services, opening the door for liability issues.

In another instance, a lapse in coordination between the county's EOC and the command post set up to handle the disaster affected several aspects of recovery, including food deliveries and housing.

The lack of coordination resulted in efforts being duplicated.

The report also listed several things Aiken County did right, such as responding quickly and getting interpreters from the Salvation Army for Hispanic residents.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111 or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.

Other findings

- Only 25 percent of county EMS responded to the disaster initially because not every employee has a county-issued pager and no other procedure was put in place to call them to work other than over the phone.

- Too many people were wandering around the recovery command post with no clear reason to be there.

- A lack of electricity at the command post hindered operations, and noise from the generator was too loud.

- The EOC was getting its updated information on the disaster through television news reports.