HERMISTON - Bob Flournoy didn't hold his punches at the Oregon Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission meeting Thursday night.
"One thing this commission has noticed ... is a lack of planning," said the commission chair. In what he called a "plea to management," Flournoy asked for agencies involved in both the destruction of chemical weapons and those charged to protect area residents to use better foresight.
The plea came after a representative from the regional Federal Emergency Management Agency told the commission that distribution of the long-awaited tone alert radios could be as much as a month away. Distribution was supposed to begin in mid-March.
"This commission has been pleading for the tone alert radios to be in the houses for the two years we've been working on this," Flournoy said. The radios, which provide instructions during emergencies, are considered a vital piece of the system to protect people during an accident at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.
While Flournoy said he wasn't trying to point any fingers, FEMA was Thursday's whipping boy. FEMA regional representative Jesse Seigal told the commissioners that a contractor for distribution of the radios has been found and applications for workers have been turned in.
But details - such as background checks, drug tests and training - must come before the distribution can begin. Those details will more than likely delay distribution again.
Seigal acknowledged the distribution of the first tone alert radio is "probably a number of weeks rather than days" away.
Seigal stood silently while Wayne Thomas, project manager for the local Oregon Department of Environmental Quality office, bared his teeth.
"We are in a tough situation here and we can't afford another failure," Thomas said. He added that the public trust in the government's ability to protect citizenry from an accident at the Umatilla Chemical Depot has dwindled following an accidental activation of the emergency sirens and reader boards on Dec. 30.
Terry Hobbs, FEMA's western states director, shot back that the radios are the agency's No. 1 priority.
"There is no other that is above that," she said. "I will tell you that there are details that come up that have to be complied with (after a contract is issued). You can't catch everything up front."
About 10,000 of the radios are on hand in Hermiston. The remaining 7,000 radios should leave Hong Kong by the end of the month.
Casey Beard, the director of Morrow County Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, said additional materials like Braille cards for the radios should arrive soon.
Meg Capps, Beard's counterpart in Umatilla County, thanked FEMA for providing staff to oversee the tone alert radios program for about two weeks. FEMA is reviewing applications to hire a project manager.