Emergency ammonia call sparks concern in Hazen
By Daniel Arens
An emergency phone alert went out the night of Thursday, April 16, warning about a potential ammonia leak in east Hazen. The message urged residents to seal their windows and doors to prevent ammonia entry for a one-hour period.
The leak turned out to be nothing, simply a nearby farmer using anhydrous ammonia on his fields. The prevailing winds had carried the smell into eastern Hazen, where a concerned resident phoned in the possible leak.
Mercer/Oliver 911 Coordinator/Emergency Manager Carmen Reed said that the emergency texts sent out were limited to 90 characters per message, and the message had to be concise enough to inform residents of the best course of action to take.
The message was sent out to all of Mercer County. Due to flukes in the messaging system, whereby a signal bounces off a cell tower or some other anomaly, the message was also received by random people in other counties.
According to Reed, the emergency management has begun using a new warning system for the area. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is a federal government alert system that does not rely on a database, but is coordinated to automatically link its messages to all cell phones within the designated area.