Millions of American students go to schools near businesses that handle large volumes of dangerous or explosive chemicals.
The Center for Effective Government has mapped companies with operations that could potentially put the students and other neighbors at risk.
The center estimates nearly 79,000 Utah students ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade attend 131 schools that are in proximity to these sites. Sean Moulton is the center's director for open-government policy.
“People should be looking at this data and getting involved,” says Moulton. “They should be going to the facilities and their state representatives and the federal agencies and saying, ‘We need these facilities to be safer.’ Often, without knowing it, these facilities are very close to them, and they can be made safer. The other thing is, people should know more about them and what needs to happen in the event of an emergency.”
Moulton says the interactive map was inspired by the explosion a year ago at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas. The disaster left 15 people dead, 160 injured and dozens of buildings damaged or destroyed.
In Utah, around 123 facilities update these risk management reports with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency every five years.
Ellis Bruch, emergency manager for Davis County, says first responders use the plans to know exactly what chemicals they’re dealing with.
“We use that to respond to an incident if we have anything from a minor to a major leak or the rupture of a tank,” Bruch says. “All these reports are sent to the fire departments as well, so they’re aware of what’s on scene before they even get there, so that we can start doing evacuations, so we can start following our protocols to make the people safe.”
He adds that the hazard plans are not to scare people. They are tools, like fire drills.
“Definitely take the time to have a conversation with your children about this, and have a plan at your home, as well,” Bruch says.
Utahns can learn about risk management plans in their area through the local emergency planning committees in their neighborhoods.