Despite having the right training and equipment, Missouri Gas Energy employees failed to protect the public after responding to a 2013 natural gas leak near the Country Club Plaza.
That conclusion emerges from a comprehensive report released Thursday by the Missouri Public Service Commissions staff on the natural gas explosion that destroyed JJs restaurant on Feb. 19 of last year, killing one person and injuring 15.
The most egregious mistake was made by MGE workers, who did not quickly enough monitor the level of natural gas inside the restaurant.
It took 32 minutes from the time the first utility employee arrived at the scene to go inside the restaurant to check for gas, despite MGEs knowledge that natural gas was blowing based on hissing noise and bubbling of backfill near the building, the report said.
In addition, JJs employees did not ensure a speedy evacuation of the restaurant even after MGE workers equipment registered high levels of natural gas in the building 10 to 14 minutes before the blast.
The PSC staffs report points out that Kansas City Fire Department personnel left the area just after the first MGE employee arrived, removing safety responders from the scene of a potential disaster. Properly so, fire officials have changed procedures and their responders will remain on site at similar incidents.
The report states that although JJs employees were told to evacuate no one in the restaurant management or utility crew made sure that immediately happened. That non-response to leaking gas flies in the face of all that MGE officials and others have said for years.
The staffs constructive recommendations include making the utility more responsible for forcefully evacuating buildings when leaks are suspected. The utilitys staff also must improve its protocol for quickly investigating leaks and for keeping people at a safe distance during a potentially hazardous situation.
One theme of the report is that mistakes were made by several people, which often happens in these kinds of tragedies. But the JJs explosion should reinforce the need for utility workers, public safety responders and the general public to take natural gas leaks more seriously.