Emergency management officials and residents in Williston, North Dakota say that the city is in desperate need of an upgrade to its disaster alert system after authorities there took more than six hours to notify the public about an explosion at a toxic chemicals facility. While there were no deaths or injuries that resulted from the explosion, the incident exposed what officials are calling “serious weaknesses” in the city’s public alert system that they say must be addressed as quickly as possible.
The explosion as the Red River Supply plant in Williston occurred in the early morning hours this past Tuesday and ignited a fire that raged for most of that day and into the evening.
The plant is located roughly a half-mile from the city’s downtown area from which could be seen fireballs and plumes of smoke being shot into the air from the power of the blaze.
There have been several emergency situations throughout the state of North Dakota in recent months that have prompted officials in a number of cities and towns to call for more efficient emergency management and alert systems and protocols. Some of those incidents have included saltwater spills, lightning strikes that have set buildings on fire, and even an oil train explosion.
Mike Hallesy, a Williams County Emergency Manager, spoke for the residents of Williston when he said that they city has to do more to better prepare itself for these types of situations and more importantly to alert the residents when they occur.
In this particular incident, emergency management workers went house-to-house knocking on doors in order to alert residents in the city’s voluntary evacuation zone.
According to Hallesy, Williams County as well as the city of Williston are finalizing plans to implement the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System organized and issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.