TAVARES — The Lake County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated late Monday night to support the city of Tavares, responding to reports of explosions at the Blue Rhino Propane Plant. The incident was the first time that the new hardened facility, located at 425 W. Alfred St., Tavares, was used for an emergency since it moved from a small room in the Lake County Administration Building in April.
Tommy Carpenter, manager of Lake County’s Emergency Management Division, arrived at the EOC at 11:45 p.m. Monday to assist Tavares.
While the Lake County Sheriff’s Office evacuated those residing within a half-mile radius of the blast site, the EOC coordinated the opening of a shelter and helped set up communications channels for the public. When the on-scene emergency personnel had the situation under control by about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, the EOC was demobilized shortly thereafter at 4:30 a.m.
The multi-function, 28,495-square-foot building has a co-located Communications Center, which is a 24/7 9-1-1 call center for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Lake Emergency Medical Services. Carpenter said that having these operations co-located significantly streamlined the communications process. His team received information in real-time from 9-1-1 dispatchers on what was happening at the site of the Blue Rhino incident, so they could assist. Carpenter said that in the past, they would have had to make multiple phone calls between all the agencies working on the emergency to get the right information, which would delay the response time. Carpenter added that the first emergency activation helped the team further evaluate processes required to get the EOC to a point where it can work more quickly, specifically, in assigning personnel to communications positions.
“Even though this is hurricane season, any kind of unexpected event may happen,” Carpenter said. “Emergency Management encourages all residents to be prepared for all hazards, not just hurricanes.”
Carpenter said that “all-hazards preparedness” includes thinking about, and preparing for, incidents affecting Lake County that involve weather, hazardous materials, wildfires and anything else either man-made or naturally occurring.
“Residents near Blue Rhino were forced to leave their homes with very short notice in the middle of the night.” Carpenter said. “Everyone should have a plan in place so that if they have to pick up and leave their homes, they’re prepared.”