HERMISTON - Two months after a false alarm seriously maimed public trust in the system designed to save people during a chemical weapons accident, an independent evaluation is beginning.

Tony Rubal, the project manager for Bell Atlantic in Virginia, spoke with about 30 officials from agencies of all sizes, from the Hermiston Police Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday morning.

Rubal heads the evaluation of the alert and notification system, which begins today. Rubal has worked extensively with FEMA, maintaining its communications and web sites.

Rubal, whose office will be at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, pledged to keep his 60-day evaluation from bias.

"I will be as impartial as impartial can be," he said.

Rubal's evaluation should be issued shortly after the 60-day period. It will contain findings and recommendations on how to improve communications between agencies and perhaps more importantly, restore public faith in the system.

Rubal's evaluation focuses largely on the sirens and reader boards designed to alert residents in the event of an accident. A concurrent evaluation by a governor's representative will incorporate this, plus first responders and financial management. The second evaluation, which is handled through Oregon State Police, won't involve a formal report.

Chris Brown, the state Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program manager for Oregon Emergency Management, said the two evaluations will be the biggest players in restoring confidence in the system.

FEMA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., is paying up to $125,000 for the evaluation. The cost shouldn't affect state or local FEMA funding.

Emergency officials said the data is needed immediately. With test burns at the incinerator complex scheduled to begin Jan. 12, officials haven't a moment to lose.

Those present had mixed reactions to the meeting. Terry Hobbs, FEMA's western states director, was encouraged by Rubal's presence while Kym Cazier, the assistant CSEPP manager for OEM, said she expected a more structured meeting.

Casey Beard, the Morrow County CSEPP director, called the evaluation "a very significant step in CSEPP." As concerns are noted, he said, agencies will begin fixing them, rather than waiting for the evaluation to be completed.

"We know that we have a ways to go, but one thing I hope you and the public will notice is that we've come a long way from Dec. 30" when a false alarm happened, he said.

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