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John Dehnel, chairman of the state's Emergency Broadcast Committee, sat by the phone Tuesday night waiting for a call to put the Emergency Broadcast System to work warning of an acid spill. The call never came.

"Maybe they decided the leak wasn't serious enough," said Dehnel, chief engineer at KSL Radio. "But I was surprised . . . because officials on the scene called it a civil emergency, and that's what the system's for."Employees of Great Western Chemical Co. moved quickly to plug the leak in a 5,000-gallon tank trailer shortly after 9 p.m. Police and firefighters evacuated the mostly industrial area while hazardous-material crews threw soda ash on the 500 gallons of hydrochloric acid that had spilled.

Ambulances and UTA buses stood by, but no injuries were reported. Residents and workers began returning to the area about midnight.

"But there was some confusion about the Emergency Broadcast System," Dehnel said. "Television and radio did the best we could with news bulletins because nobody asked us to go on."

The Emergency Broadcast System interrupts radio and television broadcasts so that officials may alert citizens during an emergency. The system can be activated by the president for national emergencies, the governor for state emergencies, and by the mayor or other local officials.

Deputy Fire Chief Thom Tallon said he was poised to alert the system, but refrained because fire and hazardous materials teams had the leak under control.

"We moved in preparation, one step ahead of the game, it came over the air to notify EBS," said the deputy chief. "But by then (crews) had plugged the leak . . . Capt. Andrus reported to me that the four major television stations had agreed to break into their programming and inform the community."

But Dehnel said that for nearly two hours Capt. Dan Andrus described the situation as a civil emergency and called the wooden plug unstable.

"The television stations did interrupt regular programming," Dehnel said. "But what about all the radio stations? What about some guy rolling down the highway, listening to . . . country music and getting ready to exit off into the contaminated area?"

KSL, the primary EBS station for Salt Lake City and the state, was prepared to notify other stations in the city, Dehnel said. Though the FCC allows KSL to activate the system on its own, he said, station policy is to wait for a command from authorities.

Dehnel is concerned because officials decided to stress the importance of using the EBS after November's spill at Thatcher Chemical. City officials were criticized then for failing to quickly inform residents.

"City officials did a good job," Dehnel said. "But some people still may not understand the policy," he said.