Umatilla Depot Faces Safety Questionsby Associated Press
KGM News - May 7, 2002
Hispanics who live near the U.S. Army Chemical Depot in Hermiston don't think their community is prepared for a major chemical disaster and blame the problem on a lack of bilingual training and materials.
The depot in northeastern Oregon stores nearly 4,000 tons of chemical weapons, including two types of nerve gas and mustard agent, in reinforced concrete bunkers. The Army is scheduled to begin incinerating the weapons next year under an international treaty.
Federal, state and county emergency planners have prepared an elaborate evacuation route and warning system for the area in case of a chemical disaster. But some say the plan excludes Hispanic residents, whose numbers are steadily increasing.
According to the 2000 census, Hermiston has about 3,170 Hispanic residents, Umatilla has 1,622 and Boardman has 2,800 Hispanic people -- half that city's population.
"They don't even have anyone bilingual in the (emergency planning) program," said Alfredo Aceves, who works for the migrant education program for the Umatilla-Morrow County schools.
Aceves sometimes serves as a translator for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. He said interest in the depot and its dangers is high, but knowledge is limited.
"Very few people are aware about what's going on at the depot. Or what could happen. And the emergency broadcast system that's supposed to warn everyone is nearly worthless," he said. "It's hard to understand what they are saying in English. I can't understand what they are saying in Spanish."
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the program does not need a Spanish speaker if it provides written materials in Spanish.
But Casey Beard, manager of Morrow County's emergency program, agrees that more needs to be done for the Hispanic community.
"We need to let them know, 'You're important to us. We aren't going to overlook you. We're going to do everything we can to keep you safe."
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