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Las Cruces Utilities Trains for the Worst with One of the Best

Even before she became an emergency response trainer, Janet E. Kerley had a knack for being at the right place at the more dangerous times. “First I was in Mexico working on a Ph.D. and there was an 8.2 earthquake. Then I went back to Washington state and Mt. St. Helens blew up,” she said. “I returned to the Yucatan and Mt. Chichón blew. That’s when I got a telegram from my dad that said, ‘What are you doing?’”

Kerley explains that by training she is an archeological chemist with a 27-year career in emergency response. She lives in Albuquerque and works today as an environmental, health, and safety instructor at Santa Fe Community College. That puts her close enough to Las Cruces to drive down and train Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) associates for the yearly Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) recertification.

“Since 9/11 emergency response and management of incidents has changed significantly…and there are more requirements for public sector agencies to train and work together,” Kerley explains. “Today, the National Incident Management Systems (NIMS) organizes agencies across the entire U.S. to respond to any incident of significance.”

Kerley knows significant hazards. Over her career, she not only worked as a chemist, but also served on the Emergency Response Team for Signetics; she also served on the Damage Assessment team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) following the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the Alaska coast, acted as team leader following Hurricane Ivan in Florida, and was a Chairman of the local emergency planning committee for the City of Albuquerque/Bernalillo County.

In early August, Kerley worked with LCU associates to complete their annual HAZWOPER recertification. During the refresher training, LCU staff reviewed their procedures for responding to a wide range of potential chemical spills. They demonstrated their ability to recognize hazards and use the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to respond safely to different levels of chemical hazards. “It’s critical that agencies train for emergencies. Technology can always fail, and we have to be prepared for that,” Kerley said. “We do annual refresher courses to be sure the information is fresh in the minds of responders. Employees never know what they might be called out to. If a chemical from garbage leaks out on a city street or is taken in at the transfer station, they have to be ready.”

But she also knew that it’s not employees alone who need to be ready. She said, “If you’re dealing with chemicals, please read the label and learn how to properly handle the material that may be dangerous for not only yourself, but to those who might deal with it as waste.”

You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.