Evacuation plan access is limited

June 01, 2006|by TARA REILLY


Want to take a look at Washington County's emergency evacuation plan?

You'll likely only see a portion of it.

The county says some of the plan is secret so it doesn't end up in the hands of "hostile" parties.

Rohrersville resident Daniel Moeller asked the county on May 5 to "inspect and copy" the plan. His request was denied.

Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey turned down Moeller's request based on state law that allows jurisdictions to deny the inspection of response procedures or plans "prepared to prevent or respond to emergency situations, the disclosure of which would reveal vulnerability assessments, specific tactics, specific emergency procedures, or specific security procedures."

Downey's May 24 rejection letter to Moeller states the county is permitted under state law to deny inspection of a public record "only to the extent that the inspection would jeopardize the security of any building, structure or facility; facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack; or endanger the life or physical safety of an individual."


Commissioner John C. Munson said Wednesday he agrees with Downey's ruling "because we can't let terrorism know what we're planning."

If the information (in the plan) gets out, "what good would that do?" Munson asked.

Munson said if an emergency were to happen, "umpteen" signs would be placed along roads and notices would be aired on television and on the radio informing people of evacuation routes.

Moeller criticized the reasons for denying his request.

"I thought they were pitiful," Moeller said. "I believe it is a control issue. People in authority work to be in control. If everybody knows as much as they know, they would lose their control."

While he didn't think an emergency evacuation plan would ever be used, Moeller said he was surprised and disappointed with the county's decision.

Because the county spent money on creating the plan, Moeller said it should be available to county residents.

Downey said by phone Wednesday that the plan contains "public safety operational details" that could fall into the hands of hostile parties.

Moeller and other residents, however, are able to obtain a general portion of the plan that doesn't contain the secret public safety information, Downey said.

Moeller said he didn't know the general portion was available, because Downey's letter didn't state so.

The general portion of the evacuation plan is 25 pages and lists the responsibilities of high-ranking county officials in emergencies and outlines plans of action but gives no specific locations or details.

County Director of Emergency Services John Latimer IV said the plan is still in draft form. He said he hopes it will be completed by the end of June or mid-July. The plan will then go to the County Commissioners for approval.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Moeller might have been denied because the final evacuation plan is not yet complete. Snook said 95 percent of the county's emergency plans are open to the public. He estimated the county has up to 10 different plans that deal with emergencies, including the evacuation plan.

"I'm not aware of anything that's secret," Snook said. "We're not trying to keep secrets from anybody."

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