In this week’s issue, Chris Kirkham and Ben Hallman look at the tragic explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that left 14 people dead and a town grasping for answers.
This is a story of breakdown. The deadly explosion was the end result of a staggering string of failures on the part of the regulatory agencies that exist explicitly to prevent such accidents. “A sense emerges,” Chris and Ben write, “that no institution sounded the alarm here, even as fertilizer piled up inside the plant, creating a potentially deadly tinderbox in close proximity to the town.” The list of players who failed to sound those alarms is a long one. There’s the company that owned the plant, which in 2011 stated that there was no risk of fire or explosion. There’s the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which had not visited the facility in nearly 30 years. And there’s the Department of Homeland Security, which, as Chris and Ben put it, “apparently was unaware of the plant’s existence.”
Even after the explosion, with West residents reeling from substantial damage to nearby apartments and a school, there is widespread sympathy for those who run the plant — longtime West residents who were pillars of the community. Ted Uptmore, who has managed the plant for half a century, also owns a livestock business. And Donald Adair, the plant’s owner, has served on the local school board.
Like the schools and churches of West, the fertilizer plant was a part of the community. “It’s been there so long that you just take it for granted,” said Jeanette Karlik, a columnist for the local newspaper, the West News.
But as Ben and Chris write, both the regulatory agencies and the people of West — everyone, it seems — shared a “notion that an explosion at the plant was not something to worry about.”
Elsewhere in the issue, Mallika Rao looks at Santa Monica’s Local Wellbeing Index, a new way to help city leaders redefine the way they craft policy. As radical as the idea may sound, there’s precedent, and many countries around the world are way ahead of us in terms of, as Mallika puts it, “worrying about how their people feel, not just how much they produce.” In the 1970s, the king of Bhutan famously called for a measurement of his country’s Gross National Happiness. England’s annual government survey now asks questions like, “How happy did you feel yesterday?” And American states and cities are slowly adopting similar programs that bring us nearer to governing, as Mallika puts it, “with a citizen’s inner life in mind.”
Finally, our continuing coverage of ways to reduce stress in our lives includes slowing down at home by cooking from scratch, calming colors to de-stress your house and plants to clear the air you breathe.
This story appears in Issue 46 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, April 26.