I-Team: Communication breakdown during chemical leak? - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

I-Team: Communication breakdown during chemical leak?


Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden is not happy about the way authorities handled information about a chemical leak on Monday in West Baton Rouge. The upside is he hopes lessons will be learned to communicate better the next alert that unfolds.

It was a chemical leak that was limited to West Baton Rouge until people in East Baton Rouge were advised to avoid downtown and a shelter in place was recommended. But now, Mayor Holden says his emergency teams were not getting official word from the agencies on scene.

"There was a mass confusion going on behind the scenes," said Mayor Holden.

Mayor Holden said several of his local agencies were left out of the loop for the recommended shelter in place.

Just before 2:30 p.m. Monday, officials said lightning struck Intercontinental Terminal causing a Butadiene leak. Because of the winds blowing from West Baton Rouge toward Downtown Baton Rouge, a Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson told 9News they advised State Police to issue a recommended shelter in place for downtown.

At 4:46 p.m., WAFB sent out an alert advising people to avoid downtown Baton Rouge Fire Chief Ed Smith & Mayor Holden said they didn't find out about the shelter till about 5 p.m.

"Sad part is, we're supposed to be giving you (the media) information and we end up having you give us information because you're getting more from people at the scene," said Mayor Holden.

JoAnne Moreau with the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or MOHSEP, said when a shelter in place is issued, those affected have to follow specific steps, such as go inside, close all windows and doors, turn off the ac and heater and more. For the short time people in downtown were under that recommended shelter in place advisory, Moreau said they never notified the people.

"We didn't get a notification, and when we did get some information, it was very confusing," said Moreau.

For example, this email sent at 4:29 p.m. Monday from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness read an update from a LSP spokesperson: "They recommend shelter in place in downtown BR. People are free to come and go but not recommended to just hang around outside in the downtown area."

Moreau's response to that email? "This message is contradictory!"

"There's a whole series of dominoes that actually are set in place," said Moreau. "None of that occurred this afternoon."

But State Police, who was the lead agency on the investigation, said their job is to get information out to the public as soon as possible and that's what they were doing. As to whether they notified anyone in East Baton Rouge about the shelter in place.

"It was a multitude of agencies involved in the process from both sides of the river, West Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge and that information was made known," said Capt. Doug Cain.

State Police said they were working with DEQ and the GOHSEP and successfully wrapped up the scene within four hours.

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