Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shelter in Place

I work for the Port Authority and our office is on the Ship Channel, about an hour’s-plus ship ride from Galveston Bay. We are surrounded (or sort of) by multiple chemical plants, producing God Knows What products, but all undoubtably toxic to breathe. And somehow, the air is SO polluted all around here, but no one owns up to releasing any noxious stuff.

However. This morning, around 10:30 or so, we get a system-wide phone message. “This is a shelter in place. A shelter in place. Please report to your respective areas. Repeat. This is a shelter in place.”

Given our locale, we have fairly regular fire drills. And then, more recently, we have had shelter in place drills. When this happens, we are to gather at the place selected for our floor and stay there. Fortunately for us, ours is the lunchroom. I use the term loosely, because the only lunches ever provided there are the ones the employees bring from home and reheat in the mikes, or ones that someone picks up at the nearest drive-by, er, drive-thru area and brings back.

The lunchroom is clean and bright and does have a few food vending machines. One has sammiches, salads, and such. One has frozen things – heavy on the ice cream bars and burritos, throw in a few frozen lunches. And a machine with the inevitable soft drinks, called sodas in the South, pop in the North. I have been here so long that the term pop sounds foreign to me. There’s also an ice-making machine, coffee (you have to pay for it - $1/week for a coffee club), cups, plates, plastic cutlery. If we were stuck in there for a long time, I have a feeling that we would start eating the weakest after cleaning out the machines. But I digress.

One of the fire wardens comes in and announces: There’s been an explosion across the channel. They want us to stay indoors. They will turn off the air conditioning (brings in outside air), and we are free to return to work, but DO NOT, repeat do not go outside.

No fear. It kinda feels like a drill, but they seem so serious about it, so now I wonder. We wander back to our area and discuss the situation. As one of the guys puts it, this is a good reason to bring your lunch. I almost always do – it’s cheaper and I eat healthier that way. About 6 or so other people usually do, too. The a/c turns off. Very still in here, when it is not blowing its wind-tunnel effect. No sooner does the a/c quit, than the announcement is made: The shelter in place has ended. We can leave the building now.

Still can’t find anything on the internet about an explosion. Must not have been such a big deal, after all.

Back to the grind.

Post script at 13:48 - the emergency was a steam release, not fumes. Until it was investigated, the decision was made to err on the side of caution. The Coast Guard is the controller/guardian of the Ship Channel, so they called it, and they called it off.

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