WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – The CBS 11 News investigative team has uncovered a potential problem with the emergency plan in West and McLennan County. While the county regularly conducts training exercises and drills to prepare for disasters, it never included the West Fertilizer Plant, and county leaders say the plant’s leaders never asked to be included in the plans.
Not only did the county not included the plant in any of its emergency preparedness plans, but the city of West never did either. In addition, the county’s emergency management coordinator, Frank Patterson, said he never imagined the plant would explode.
For the first time since the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, Patterson said the county knew the plant stored 270 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate.
He believes the city of West knew as well.
“Based on verbal conversations I had with both West Fertilizer and West Fire officials in recent years, it was my understanding they had conferred on the hazard of the plant and planned their responses accordingly,” he told CBS 11.
Patterson says each year, the county conducts three training exercises to prepare for disasters.
Their last large exercise was in 2009.
But, he acknowledged, none of the preparedness drills or exercises ever included the West Fertilizer plant or surrounding neighborhood.
CBS 11’s Investigative Reporter Jack Fink asked Patterson why the plant was excluded.
“If asked, we’ll do it,” said Patterson.
Fink also asked if the plant, the city of West volunteer fire department, or the city itself ever requested the county for help with any table top exercise or drills.
“Specifically that plant? Not that I know of,” said Patterson.
State and federal investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the fire and explosion April 17th that killed 15 people.
But did Patterson as emergency management coordinator understand the potential for an explosion there?
“If you’re asking sitting here right now? No,” he said.
Fink asked him if anyone from the state ever said he needed to take a look at that beforehand.
“No, no one from the state ever contacted us, [or said] hey you need to take a look at that,” Patterson said.
Patterson praised the city of West, saying if they hadn’t prepared, they wouldn’t have evacuated the neighborhood around the plant as quickly as they did.
“The plan worked,” he said.
He noted that the city had done training exercises in the past, but he couldn’t say whether they included the plant. CBS 11 contacted the mayor and the owner of the fertilizer plant. Those calls were not immediately returned.
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