Baltimore Co. seeks gear to plan for evacuations

September 11, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Baltimore County officials say they need equipment to plan for the possible evacuation of residents when the Army begins incinerating chemical weapons at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The Army is slated to begin burning mustard agent at the proving ground, in neighboring Harford County, in a yearlong, $145 million operation beginning in August 1996, officials said.

Yesterday, John Thompson, deputy director of civil defense for Baltimore County, requested County Council approval to use $15,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to buy a camera that will project images from a 10-inch computer screen onto a 10-foot movie screen.

Such a camera -- which has already been purchased by officials in Harford County -- would be useful in enlarging maps and planning for any evacuations necessary when the chemicals are incinerated, he said.

"We don't really expect anything to go wrong. But if there is a problem, we want to be prepared," said Mr. Thompson.

Baltimore County's eastern boundary with Harford along the Gunpowder River lies within a mile of the site in Edgewood where the mustard agent is slated to be burned, Mr. Thompson said.

The request is scheduled to be voted on by the council at its Sept. 17 session.

Mr. Thompson said that if the request is approved, he will meet with Harford County officials for information on the specifics of what type of camera -- a multimode data display unit -- works best. Bids for contracts will then be advertised and a contract awarded to the lowest bidder in the weeks ahead, he said.

Construction of the Army's Chemical Disposal Facility is slated to begin in June 1993, said Louise Dyson, an Army spokeswoman. The incinerator is to begin operating in August 1996 and continue until September 1997, she said.

Ms. Dyson said the incinerator will have a sophisticated pollution-abatement system designed to prevent any toxic wastes from being emitted into the atmosphere.

"Nothing will be released into the atmosphere that will be harmful to the environment or to the neighboring residents," said Ms. Dyson.

But Baltimore County officials say they want to be prepared for the worst anyway. "If something were to happen we'd want everything available to us at our fingertips," Mr. Thompson said.

The county already has an evacuation plan in the event of an accident during the incineration process.

The plan calls for the state fairgrounds in Timonium to be an evacuation site for the 15,000 people who live within a six-mile radius of the incinerator, which disaster officials have labeled "the initial response zone."

Another 85,000 people live in "the protective action zone" that encompasses a 10-mile radius, where there is a risk of ill effects, Mr. Thompson said.

But being able to project highway maps onto a large screen would help county officials plan for contingencies if specific neighborhoods had to be evacuated, he said.

The camera also will help in meetings with firefighters and police, and in making presentations to community groups when the county gears up in the years ahead to brief neighborhoods before the mustard agent is burned, he said.

Mr. Thompson said his office coordinates its emergency plans with neighboring Harford County.

His office also has a listing of some 300 hazardous chemicals in a computer so firefighters and police can be alerted to how to respond to highway and industrial accidents involving chemicals.

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