Commentary: The aftermath of the West Fertilizer tragedy
In the days, weeks and months ahead, many issues surrounding the explosion that took place at the West Fertilizer Company’s facility last week, will be discussed. Agriculture, fertilizer, safety precautions, town development, government regulations and security will all be up for review as a result of the massive tragedy in West, Texas.
The mainstream media is already asking how and why large amounts of fertilizer are allowed to be stored in locations near homes and businesses. Zoning laws and planning experts will be questioned at West, Texas, and likely throughout much of the country where fertilizer is manufactured and stored.
What makes the devastation in West so tragic is the proximity the homes, school and nursing home were to the facility. The company was founded in 1958 and the facility was built shortly thereafter. The homes and buildings were established after the plant had been built.
Communities around the country will begin to question the wisdom of having any homes or businesses near any fertilizer storage or many types of manufacturing facilities. Although the public cannot ignore the potential safety dangers possible being near these facilities, it is not a time to panic or flee rural areas near ag retailer operations because of the possibility another explosion may occur. Almost all facilities operate safely day in and day out. Let’s not forget that this event was an exception, not a rule to fertilizer handling and storage, and there are newly raised questions about the legalities of the West operation
However, in the months ahead, the discussions will zero in on facilities and their obligations to protect the public. Many facilities will need to speak to the media and reassure their communities that precautions are being taken to keep everyone safe, especially at the height of fertilizer season
The explosion at the West facility should also be a reminder to all ag retailers, fertilizer companies and anyone who handles fertilizer how precautions are necessary. Now is a great time to review safety protocols, update risk management plans and prepare to talk with the media.
When tragedy happens, all of the best laid plans and binders full of risk management plans tend to get lost during an emergency. I learned this at the recent Crisis Management & Media Training Program that was offered by the Agricultural Retailers Association, Feb. 27-28 in Kansas City, Mo. This program was the first time ARA had developed a program to help retailers train to handle emergency situations and learn how to speak to the media.
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