A CSX train derailed at the Port of Tampa in July, spilling more than 4,000 gallons of highly flammable ethanol. The derailment raised concerns over safety at the port, as more people and businesses move downtown.
Then two weeks later, a tank at the port caught fire. Sulfur dioxide was released, potentially causing respiratory problems for people living nearby.
The city and county sent out a "shelter in place" alert, essentially telling people to stay inside.
"People don't know what that means," said Port Authority board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. She says the port needs a better system to warn people.
The "shelter in place" message only went out to those signed up for emergency notifications.
"I drove down Davis Blvd. There's a lot of outdoor eating places and people are just outside, like nothing has happened and I said 'we really need to fix this communications gap,'" Murman said.
The following week, the very same tank caught fire again. As far as hazards go, sulfur dioxide is not at the top of the scale. But ammonia, which is stored at the port, is. Had ammonia been leaking, sirens would have blared.
Downtown Resident David Noetzel says he has never even heard the sirens being tested, much less know what to do it he heard it.
"Get in the car and go?" said Noetzel. "There should be something universal in place, probably, because if something did happen over there, it would be more immediate than say a hurricane, where everyone has a week to get to the grocery store and prepare."
The area around the port is rapidly changing, as more people move downtown. Murman says now is a good time to make better use of technology to communicate when an emergency threatens.
"We all know that a lot has changed from just blowing horns," Murman said.
Murman says involved agencies, including The Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, Tampa Fire Rescue, and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, are working together to improve communication systems.
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