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One year after Eastman explosions, emergency response teams and area schools have new procedures

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) - - One year after the explosions at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, the business, emergency response teams, and area schools have new measures in place.

Earlier this year, News Channel 11 obtained state documents that reveal the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) fined Eastman $2,400.

The documents revealed TOSHA investigators cited four serious violations in their investigation but only fined Eastman for one of them.

Eastman said the explosions were the result of what they called a "process upset" due to a valve blockage.

In the last year, Eastman made equipment upgrades and established a command center. These changes came after the company admitted it could have done more to alert emergency teams and the community about the explosions.

Eastman officials denied News Channel 11's request for an on-camera interview about the explosions last year.

Sheila Brown lives less than a mile away from the chemical company.

"I felt a shake of some sort," Brown said. "When I came outside I could see the smoke."

It's an incident that caused schools and emergency response teams to review plans and protocols.

Andy True, assistant superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, said a safety task force was created earlier this year. School officials came up with emergency plans to respond to situations like fires, active shooters, and an industrial accident or chemical release.

"When we have those types of scenarios in place, where there is some sort of airborne issue, we do have the ability to shut off HVAC units immediately at each individual school," True said.

Sullivan County EMA Director Jim Bean said after the explosions, days at the office didn't go back to normal.

"This wasn't something that happened and then a week later everything was forgotten," Bean said.

He said it's been an ongoing process to improve procedures.

"The biggest change is the open lines of communication that we developed between all the agencies and the personnel in the plant," Bean said.

Kingsport Fire Chief Scott Boyd agreed the communication improved after the incident.

"I think it's open some eyes to the fact that we've done a little more communication, more exercises," Boyd said. "We all went back and reviewed what our procedures were for responding to Eastman. I think it's better communication than what we had prior to the incident."

Bean said officials have pushed more people to sign up for Kingsport's emergency notification system.

It's something Brown said she signed up for after the explosions last year.

"I never thought about anything happening that I would need it," Brown said. "I got educated."

In April, Kingsport 9-1-1 officials reported just 500 people had self-enrolled in the system.

This week, officials confirmed with News Channel 11 more than 3,000 people had self-enrolled to receive alerts if there's an emergency.

To enroll in Kingsport's emergency notification system, click here.

 

 


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