Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Marking an Historic Accomplishment

I can’t believe it’s here. I’ve been looking forward to this since I began working for Tooele County Emergency Management almost 12 years ago. At that time it seemed like this time would never come. I’m talking about the total destruction of the chemical munitions once stored at Deseret Chemical Depot (DCD). Those munitions and containers that were filled with chemical agent are completely destroyed. Tooele County is no longer home to 44 percent of the nation’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Eight months ago, I wrote in this publication about the great work that was being done at DCD and the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TOCDF) when the supposedly last container was delivered to the large demilitarization plant. I knew we were close then, but all the military and contract workers at DCD crossed the finish line on January 21st when the last drop of agent was burned up in the Area 10 Liquid Incinerator. They did have to change their plans and continue utilizing the TOCDF to complete the mission, but that’s irrelevant in the long run.
On January 31st, the Tooele County Commissioners, along with TCEM, and federal and state representatives, received official notice from Colonel Mark B. Pomeroy and other officials at DCD that there was no agent left there. Commissioner Jerry Hurst said about the occasion, “It’s been a great cooperative project; communications between DCD and the county have been great. They have always kept us in the loop so we knew what was going on and could report to our constituents. The safety record at DCD has been phenomenal. What few problems that occurred out there were taken care of quickly and effectively. It’s great to have this all done as safely as it was.”
Tooele County Emergency Management Director, Kari Sagers, expressed her appreciation to DCD officials for the partnership that has existed. She said, “The communication and cooperation that existed was beneficial to the entire community. There was always open dialogue and two-way communications between partners. We could always count on DCD to keep us informed of the situation there, so that we could notify the public of any threatening emergencies in a timely manner. Fortunately, none ever occurred.”
Tooele County will continue to benefit from the partnership Commissioner Colleen Johnson said. “DCD and the whole county need to be proud of the accomplishment of making the county and the nation safer, by destroying all of the munitions there. I think the whole thing has been a great benefit to our county with the emergency preparedness capabilities we’ve gained for all hazards and emergencies. The county and cities have benefited from the experience and what we have learned. Everyone has worked together for the same goal. Now we have that working relationship from training and exercising together that will remain afterwards,” Johnson said.
To express their recognition of the historic feat and thanks for a job well done, the County Commissioners sent a letter to DCD’s commander. An excerpt of that letter is included here.
On this historic occasion, we the Tooele County Commissioners want to take this opportunity to congratulate you and your workforce for the safe completion of Deseret Chemical Depot’s mission – the total elimination of the chemical weapons stockpile stored in Tooele County since 1941. On behalf of all of Tooele County’s citizens, we thank you for accomplishing this critical task.
Looking back over the 23-year partnership Tooele County has had with the Army and DCD, we appreciate your cooperation, your candor, and your open communications with us. We know both partners have benefited through joint efforts to create an environment that was and is prepared for not only a chemical emergency, but for all hazards.
Since 1989, when Tooele County first became part of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, this community has worked together to plan, train and exercise for an emergency at DCD that never happened. We’re grateful for that. We’re also grateful for the legacy CSEPP leaves behind – a better prepared community for all-hazards.
Although the decades-long risk from the hazardous agents stored and destroyed at DCD is eliminated, Tooele County will remain prepared and vigilant. We are glad to maintain the infrastructure provided by CSEPP and managed by Emergency Management.
Thank you for making Tooele County, this state, our great nation, and even the world safer. We wish all the best for you and your employees who have worked so hard to this end.

Hundreds of workers at DCD and the TOCDF, many of them Tooele County citizens, have worked with the same goal of safely storing and eliminating the chemical agent. Within two years each one of them will have retired or had to find new employment. I join with the Commissioners in hoping for the best for each of them.
I think the county would be remiss if it didn’t recognize and thank all of the people over the decades who have worked at DCD and Tooele Army Depot, which previously had stewardship of the chemical storage area then known as South Area. My own dad, Terry, worked at and retired from Tooele Army Depot. As an engineer he helped design the TOCDF. I’m proud of him for that. Many other men and women in the past contributed to the success of today’s DCD workforce.
Thanks to everyone involved, past and present, for a safer, and better prepared Tooele County.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Most of us living now will remember September 11th, 2001 as our country’s most tragic day. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost on that day when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. The tenth anniversary of those horrific events is almost upon us. Our country hasn’t seen a day like 9/11 since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We have never forgotten that day that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II. Some people of our older generation still remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I hope we will also never forget 9/11, which launched us into the continuing war on terror. I’m sure you remember where you were when you first heard of the attacks on the Twin Towers. The Tooele County Commissioners took a moment to share their thoughts about 9/11. Here is what Commissioner Colleen Johnson wrote. “I was at home listening to roofers banging on my roof. The phone rang and Bob told me to turn the TV on. Just as I did the second plane hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center. All I could do was stare at the TV in unbelief, things like this don’t happen in America! My thoughts immediately went to my family, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that they were safe, and then a prayer for all those being affected by this horrible event. Then came the reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon and a plane crashing in Pennsylvania. “As I was thinking about this I realized that there are children that will be learning this in their history classes as people of my generation learned of Pearl Harbor, and trying to imagine how such an event could happen. I don’t think there are words to describe the gamut of feelings and emotions that people went through that day and the days to follow. “Never, Never, Never forget or let your families forget what this great nation stands for. We were founded on freedom and today it is just as important as it was then. As horrible and terrifying as the 9-11 attacks were it brought our country and communities together as never before. I was so proud of the way our nation pulled together and stood up for what we believe in. We had a greater appreciation for just how blessed and lucky we are and how good we have it–something that we should never ever take for granted.” Commissioner Bruce Clegg said this about that fateful day, “We were helping a re-enactment of a wagon train of Mormon settlers traveling from Spanish Fork to San Bernardino, California. We were on the desert in Juab County and had just hooked up the teams to the wagons when we got the message about the World Trade Center. People were wondering, ‘is this the end of the world’ since America had never been attacked this way before. That’s what was going through people’s minds. No matter how you thought about it, it was a serious event, a disconcerting event. “The decision was made to stay on schedule with the wagon train until we got more information. The attacks never impeded our progress but we kept getting more details about the event as we rolled along. We finished our leg of the journey at the Nevada border. “I think it’s really important that we keep these events on our minds and express our feelings to people who might not remember it, the younger generations, and let them know what we went through at that time, what it was like. We want them to stay vigilant and reduce or eliminate the vulnerabilities that existed then so we don’t have to experience that again.” I also remember exactly what I was doing on 9/11 when I first heard of the attacks. It was the day before Tooele County’s annual Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program exercise. Other Public Affairs Officers and I were going to be meeting with members of the media to issue them credentials for observing the emergency drill the following day. I was home getting ready for work when I got a phone call from a photographer at Channel 4 News. He asked me if we were still going to be conducting our exercise. When I replied “yes” and asked him “why wouldn’t we?” he excitedly told me about the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. I told him I’d have to get back with him about the exercise. After turning on my TV I watched in utter disbelief as the second plane flew into one of the Twin Towers. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. In remembrance of the tragic events on 9/11, and especially all those who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks, Tooele County Emergency Management will activate the sirens, part of our outdoor warning system, on Sunday morning, September 11th. We plan to activate the sirens at about 9:59 a.m., the time the first World Trade Center tower collapsed. Please don’t be alarmed when you hear the sirens’ “wail” tone, followed by the message “Join Tooele County in remembering the heroes and victims of the 9/11 tragedy.” Please take a moment on the upcoming September 10th to reflect on how 9/11 changed you, your family, and your country. Always remember that tragic day, and as a people remain vigilant against the evils of the world and anyone, foreign or domestic, that will attempt to take away the freedoms and prosperity that are only available in this great country, the United States of America.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thank You DCD/TOCDF Team

Dangerous chemical weapons have been stored at Deseret Chemical Depot (DCD) as early as the close of World War II. The Army has been storing the aging munitions in earth covered, concrete bunkers in Rush Valley for decades. Now, employees at DCD and the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TOCDF) reached two major milestones last month.

DCD workers delivered the last On-site Container (ONC) transporting the final bulk storage container to the TOCDF on May 11, 2011. This final ONC delivery represented more than 24,000 total ONC deliveries from the storage area to the disposal facility, all of which were completed safely and without any harm to people or the environment.

Then on May 16, 2011 the last mustard agent-filled bulk storage container was punched, drained of its contents, and put through the metal parts furnace. That incinerator subjected the container to temperatures reaching 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, completely destroying any chemical agent still inside. The drained contents were also completely burned up in a liquid incinerator at 2700 degrees Fahrenheit.

The dedicated and courageous workers at DCD and TOCDF have been safely whittling away at what was originally 44 percent of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile since August 1996. The Tooele County Commissioners are very proud of those workers’ historic achievement and express their gratitude and congratulations for a job well done.

Commissioner Colleen Johnson said, “I think it's a great accomplishment that all involved with DCD and TOCDF can be proud of. It has also provided Tooele County and the EOC with some valuable training that wouldn't have happened otherwise."

Commissioner Bruce Clegg added his thanks, “I appreciate the dedicated men and women who have worked so hard to safely rid our community of those dangerous weapons. I have commissioner oversight of emergency management and know what a good relationship we’ve had with the workforce at DCD. They’ve done an excellent job providing this service to our county and the nation.”

Commissioner Jerry Hurst explained why the workers deserve this recognition. “The people at DCD have been very efficient at disposing of those munitions with very few problems. They are a top notch crew. I appreciate how the management keeps us informed of what they’re doing and what their schedule is.”

At this major milestone, staff at Tooele County Emergency Management also expresses their thanks for the relationships established with the people at DCD. They have been honest, informative, and friendly throughout the two decades we’ve been working together.

Tooele County Emergency Management Director, Kari Sagers, voiced her gratitude for all the work over the years that preceded this event. She said, “I knew that something was out there at DCD all my life growing up in Tooele, but wasn’t familiar with the enormity of it until becoming involved with CSEPP in 1989. Originally, the amounts of agent were classified until the early 90’s. When I heard how much it was, I remember thinking we’ll never ever be able to get that processed. I kept thinking there would be hiccups all along the way, delaying the work. Now here we are with the last bulk container having been destroyed at the TOCDF. I’m just amazed at the huge feat that’s been accomplished.”

Although the last major campaign is completed and there are no more planned agent operations scheduled at TOCDF, there is still more work to do. DCD and TOCDF employees are preparing to destroy a few hundred mustard-filled munitions that are too badly deteriorated to put through the TOCDF, and a handful of GA nerve agent and Lewisite blister agent-filled bulk containers. Workers are constructing new facilities within the chemical storage area, specifically designed to handle the remaining stockpile at DCD.

U.S. Army commanders and managers anticipate concluding the remaining agent demilitarization (destruction) operations early 2012, ahead of the April 2012 International Chemical Weapons Treaty deadline. The final elimination of all agent munitions at DCD will be another historic event for Tooele County, the U.S. Army, and the world. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monitoring Spring Runoff

The Tooele County Commission is vigilantly monitoring the potential for spring flooding this year. Commissioner Bruce Clegg and County Engineer Vern Loveless make regular patrols of specific areas of concern. However, while electronic news media are painting a gloomy picture on the Salt Lake City side of the Oquirrh Mountains, Clegg and Loveless agree that the situation in Tooele County is manageable.

Long-time residents of Tooele County will remember the flooding of 1983. City streets were turned into roaring rivers. Roads and yards were washed out. Homes were flooded. People all around the Tooele Valley were recruited to fill sand bags. I remember getting out of church early on a Sunday afternoon in Erda to go fill sand bags in Tooele.

The good news is it’s unlikely that we’ll see a repeat of that disaster. Utah Snotel measurements indicate that the Oquirrh Mountains are at 145% of normal for water equivalent, the amount of water contained in the snow. That’s only about half of the water content we saw during the winter of 1982-1983. The only factor of real concern now is how fast the temperatures will increase and bring down the water that is up in the mountains.

More recently, people will remember the flash flood of Memorial Day 2005. However, that was caused by a three hour continuous downpour, not spring runoff. Loveless points out that that’s a significant difference. “This is a snow melt event, not a cloudburst. We can see flood conditions arise over days, not minutes,” he said. Commissioner Clegg added, “With this type of event we’ll have enough warning to take proactive measures if the water exceeds flood controls.”

The other good news is that in the years after the floods of 1983, FEMA paid to install several new flood control measures in Tooele County. Those flood control measures include construction of a ditch and dike designed to divert water coming out of South Willow and North Willow Canyons away from residences and towards Tooele Army Depot and an aquifer recharge zone (absorption area) just south of SR-112; installation of larger culverts under SR-36 north of the viaduct and near 700 South; installation of larger drainage pipes on the south side of Tooele; and excavation of deeper flood control channels along the border between Tooele City and Erda.

In spite of the positive outlook, city and county engineers, public works and roads employees, irrigation company managers, and emergency management are working hard to mitigate any potential flood waters. Recent mitigation efforts include inspecting and maintaining the flood control measures installed with FEMA funding, cleaning drainage ditches and flood control channels, and filling sand bags.

There are several areas that officials are focusing on right now. They are Settlement Canyon, Middle Canyon, the South Willow Canyon and North Willow Canyon drainage, Ophir Canyon, Hickman Canyon, and the Vernon drainage. So far none of those areas are showing any signs of flooding.

Commissioner Clegg is working closely with Tooele County Emergency Management (TCEM) and with other officials to coordinate snow melt information weekly. TCEM creates a SitRep or Situation Report, containing details of the current situation and mitigation efforts. That SitRep is distributed to, and reviewed by, all local governments. TCEM has also supplied more sand bags to local municipalities, and is documenting efforts in case an emergency is declared and reimbursement is available.

You may be wondering what you can do to help. As for any natural hazard potential, have a family disaster plan and disaster supplies kits; maintain situational awareness, meaning be aware of what’s going on around you; consider purchasing flood insurance; report areas of concern to your local government officials; and monitor warning systems if an emergency does occur. People are also encouraged to organize cleanup efforts to remove trash, weeds, and other debris from gutters, storm drains, and drainage ditches that may exist around your home or in your neighborhood.

Emergency Preparedness information is available in many forms at the TCEM Building at 15 East 100 South in Tooele. You can consult your 2011 Tooele County Emergency Preparedness Calendar. Information is also available electronically at, or by following TCEM on, @TCEM; and on Facebook: Feel free to call (435) 833-8100 with emergency preparedness questions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting Ready for the "Big One"

Experts are calling it the fifth biggest earthquake since 1900. The March 11th earthquake that hit Japan’s main island of Honshu measured magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. The resulting tsunami wiped out Sendai, Japan leaving death and destruction in the wake of the 30 foot high wall of water. Thousands are dead and thousands more are still missing.

It seems like these natural disasters, especially earthquakes, are occurring with more frequency all over the world. Whether that’s really true or not, I don’t know. But I do know that when it comes to a major earthquake hitting our state, scientists say it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

Of course, after the Japanese quake everyone is talking about the terrible disaster. Many people are taking notice and starting, or continuing, to get prepared. Commissioner Colleen Johnson said, “People tend to forget about preparedness until the next disaster hits. Emergency preparedness is certainly on people’s minds now.”

I hope it is on your mind now. The Tooele County Commissioners are concerned for the safety of our citizens and are urging everyone to takes steps to become prepared for emergencies and disasters. Commissioner Jerry Hurst said, “Everybody ought to be prepared. Nobody expects these disasters to happen to them, but they do happen. We can’t be totally prepared for everything, but we need to do the best we can.”

So where do you begin? Emergency Preparedness for any type of hazard begins with a Family Disaster Plan. Your plan should consist of knowing protective actions, designating an out-of-state telephone contact, identifying one family meeting place outside your home and one outside your neighborhood in case of evacuation, creating Disaster Supply Kits for each family member and your vehicles, keeping and rotating water and food storage in your home, keeping your gas tanks at least half full, and knowing emergency plans for your child’s school. Include special-needs neighbors and pets in your plans.

In the case of an earthquake, the first thing to know and remember is the protective action: “Drop, Cover, and Hold on.” Get under sturdy furniture and hold on until the shaking stops. While the duration of the Japanese earthquake was unusually long, with shaking lasting three to five minutes, most quakes last less than a minute. You don’t have time to run around looking for cover. “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” wherever you are, as soon as possible. If you’re outside, stay outside, but away from power lines, trees, walls and fences. Don’t run out of, or into, a building. The biggest cause of death and injury in an earthquake is falling objects.

This may sound callous but if you don’t know how to protect yourself during a natural disaster, it may not matter if you have any other emergency plans and supplies in place. Teach your family and friends to “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” just as much as they know “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Try to stay calm and don’t panic during disasters.

Commissioner Bruce Clegg has encouraged citizens to have water stored for emergencies since he first took office. He said, “We live in the high desert and with droughts, power outages, and disasters, you never know when our fresh water supply might be threatened or interrupted. It’s important that everyone have food and water storage.” Commissioner Johnson agreed, “I think everyone should have water stored in their homes. We can live without food longer than we can live without water.”

In April 2003, National Public Radio’s Howard Berkes called Tooele County one of the best prepared rural counties in the nation. And we’ve only improved since then. Tooele County Emergency Management (TCEM) can activate the Emergency Operations Center where officials coordinate, communicate, and collaborate for emergency response and resource needs. TCEM also maintains several warning systems including sirens, highway message boards, tone-alert radios, Emergency Alert System, route alerting, telephone calling trees, Twitter (, and Facebook (

Unfortunately, many of the natural hazards that could affect Tooele County such as an earthquake or tornado will provide little to no warning. When warning is available and during disasters, the warning systems will be utilized to provide emergency public information to help people during the response to, and recovery, from a disaster.

Because we don’t know when the next big earthquake will hit our area, we need to get prepared now. Emergency Management Director, Kari Sagers, said, “The best steps you can take to prepare are those you do before the disaster. When the disaster hits, the time to prepare has passed.”

There are no guarantees when it comes to surviving a disaster, but if you do all you can to prepare for the worst, then you can hope for the best.
Emergency Preparedness information is available in many forms at the TCEM Building at 15 East 100 South in Tooele. You can consult your 2011 Tooele County Emergency Preparedness Calendar. Information is also available electronically at Feel free to call (435) 833-8100 with emergency preparedness questions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Earthquakes, Earthquakes, Earthquakes!

It seems like there's news every week of another earthquake happening somewhere around the world. These occurences raise a lot of questions.

Are they really happening with more frequency? I don't know. When did the last major earthquake occur in our area? For Tooele County, that was more than 400 years ago. I'm sure none of us felt that one.

When will the next major earthquake hit here? Again, I don't know. Seismologists study quakes to try to predict the tremblors with some degree of accuracy. But so far, that's just not possible. I do know that Utah averages 700 quakes a year. That's about two a day. But they're usually two small or in such remote places that we don't feel them.

But the most important question to ask and answer is, when should we be prepared for an earthquake? Right now.

The first step to being prepared is knowing the correct protective action to take when the earth starts shaking. That is "Drop, Cover and Hold On." Again, "Drop, Cover, and Hold On." Everyone needs to know that like they know the old clothing-on-fire rule "Stop, Drop and Roll."

"Drop, Cover and Hold On" means get low on the floor, under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a desk, table, chair, or stand in a doorway, and hold on to the furniture or door frame until the shaking stops. If you're in bed, stay there and hold a pillow over your head.

We don't have time to run around looking for protection. You have to act immediately.
The next rule: "If you're indoors, stay indoors. If you're outdoors, stay outdoors." If outdoors, move away from trees, power lines, tall buildings, fences and walls. While driving, pull over when you can, but don't stop on bridges or under overpasses.

We need to teach our family and practice "Drop, Cover and Hold On" whenever we can. Hold family earthquake drills frequently, and in different rooms in the house. Teach your children how to stay safe during earthquakes.

Judging by the recent chain of earthquakes, the experts are probably right in saying that when it comes to an earthquake, it's not a matter of if, but when. Please be prepared for earthquakes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Facts about the new TCEM Building

Building Name: Tooele County Emergency Management Building
Houses: Tooele County Emergency Management Department, Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and the 911 Dispatch Center
General Contractor: Ascent Construction
Construction: January 2008 - May 2009
Total Square Footage: 16,000 sq. ft.
Cost: approx. $5 million ($2.5 million provided by CSEPP, $2.5 million provided by Tooele County)
Structural Integrity: meets FEMA requirements for a critical facility, exceeds current building codes for seismic activity up to magnitude 7.4 by 50%
EOC Features: kitchen facility, men’s and women’s sleeping quarters and shower facilities for long term activation
Redundancies: a 6,000 gallon backup drinking water source, two backup power sources (UPS and a diesel generator with 4,000 gallon diesel tank), a heating system which runs on propane (3,000 gallons of propane storage), a backup battery bank for communications systems, and off-site telephone connections and power failure telephones; all capabilities allowing the EOC to continue operations for two weeks without outside assistance
Other Features: American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant throughout, environmentally friendly: maximum use of natural lighting, high efficiency heating and cooling system with extra insulation, motion sensors to control lights in offices and storage rooms, and water in bathroom faucets