Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Furthermore, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place.
The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, according to a Baytown resident, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER posted a general message regarding the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.
Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, residents never received the all clear — they weren’t informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.