Thursday, September 7, 2017

We Remember September 11, 2001 - DEP Responds To A National Tragedy

This week as Pennsylvanians are helping others respond to Hurricane Harvey, wildfires in the western states and Hurricane Irma, we need to take at least a few minutes to remember the role Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians played on September 11, 2001.
We all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001, but the employees of the Department of Environmental Protection remember better than most because they played a key role in the responding to the Somerset County crash site of Flight 93.
Betsy Mallison, Community Relations Coordinator from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office in Pittsburgh, will remember because she was one of the first state officials on scene after the crash relaying information about the site back to the PA Emergency Management Agency Operations Center. Click Here to read her story.
DEP Emergency Response personnel helped local first responders set up hazardous materials safety measures to make sure the hundreds of local, state and federal officials at the site were safe as they dealt with jet fuel and other hazards.
Water quality staff monitored a nearby pond and stream for contamination.
Staff from the mining program gave investigators valuable information on site geology because the plane crashed on part of a reclaimed surface coal mine. The site, after all, was a crime scene and it had to be investigated carefully.
DEP staff from many programs were rotated in and out of the site for weeks dealing with environmental issues there. The rotation was necessary not only because of the work, but because it was difficult to be at the site of such tragedy for very long, especially during visits by the families of those who perished in the crash.
Although a small town grew up at the site of the crash with hundreds of people, trailers, ATVs and equipment, every time a car or bus carrying families came to the little village it became very quiet and still as the families passed through.
One incident in particular affected many people. On a routine run to take water samples, two DEP staffers found a nearly intact Bible, itself a miracle, with a note inside. It was from one of the passengers writing to a loved one for the last time.
DEP and Pennsylvania offered staff and equipment support to New York City to help them deal with air quality, waste and other environmental issues in and around the World Trade Center site.
A good example was fielding a request to allow landfills in Pennsylvania to stay open longer to allow regular trash from the city to be disposed of here. Regular services like garbage pick up were significantly disrupted by the monumental response to the tragedy there, something basic that you just don't think about.
In the weeks after September 11, DEP employees again played key roles in helping to respond to the scare created by the anthrax attacks, running down potential threats to public water supplies, dams, nuclear power plants and other infrastructure.
Emergency response procedures and local-state emergency management partnerships put in place in Pennsylvania after floods, mine accidents and the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island served the Commonwealth well, albeit after those hard lessons.
Many public employees and volunteers from first responders, local, state and federal governments will remember that day, but those who were there at the crash site of Flight 93 on that day and the many days that followed have a very vivid and personal memory of what happened, just like all those at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Little did DEP employees know that in 10 months they would be back in Somerset County and the focus of world attention again with the Quecreek Mine Rescue.
(Photo: David Hess.)
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