By Christina Cathcart/Accent editor

Duct tape has had many reincarnations over the years. It’s been used to fix just about anything imaginable: to patch ripped fabrics, a cracked engine hose or an old beat-up sneaker sole.As the hobbyist’s right-hand adhesive, duct tape has been the material of choice in designing clothing, belts, wallets and even picture frames.
But this year, the government found a new use for duct tape: defense against chemical warfare.

Officials advised folks in February to have duct tape in their homes to use to seal windows and doors with plastic sheeting in case of a chemical or biological terrorist attack.
The national wave of panic to buy duct tape hit Richmond almost immediately after that announcement.

“There were a lot of scared customers in here buying up duct tape,” said Jordan Roberts, the hardware department manager at Wal-Mart in Richmond. “They weren’t just buying one roll; most folks were grabbing two or three at a time.”

ACE Hardware had a 20-25 percent increase in duct tape sales after the initial announcement, according to assistant manager Troy Burns.

Duct tape panic even spurred the creation of a documentary — “Avoiding Armageddon” — which will be shown on KET 2 April 14-16 at 9 p.m. each night.

Alan Banks, director of the center of Appalachian studies, said the documentary — and the presentation, panel discussion and luncheon on the topic at 11 a.m., April 24 in the Grand Reading Room of the library — discusses chemical warfare and the effects it has on communities around the world.

“This documentary is designed to raise awareness about weapons of mass destruction and raise dialogues about the implications for our communities,” Banks said.

As a part of the Madison County community, Eastern is preparing as well. Although there are not yet supplies like duct tape and plastic sheeting for each building on campus, plans are being discussed in light of the Blue Grass Army Depot’s proximity to campus. The possibility of a chemical accident at the Depot warrants these safety measures, officials say.

“The Army Corp of Engineering has been on campus and has developed a plan for shelter-in-place,” said Doug Whitlock, vice president of administrative affairs. “They have all the particular data they need to make suitable plans and they’re moving as fast as they can.”
Shelter-in-place is the method used to keep contaminated air out of a building. This is one of two methods — the other being evacuation — that can be used in the case of the release of a hazardous chemical into the air, the theory being that exposure to the airborne chemicals might be less if people are sealed indoors.

For several weeks, Eastern has been discussing what to do during such an incident, Whitlock said. Duct tape and other supplies would be needed in the case the shelter-in-place plan is the method used.

According to Whitlock, safety supplies will be placed in central locations in each building on campus.

The supplies and new information placards on where to go in case of a chemical accident or attack will be in each building by the end of this semester, Whitlock said.

According to Larry Westbrook, Eastern’s safety coordinator, the goal is to have as much control over residents’ safety as possible.

“The long-range plan is to have all the buildings’ heating and cooling systems connected to Facilities Services (physical plant),” Westbrook said. “Right now, if there’s an accident, you’re supposed to go to an inner room with few windows and doors and turn off the ventilation.”

Eastern’s official plan of action in case of a chemical emergency, as stated on the emergency procedures Web site, is to follow instructions given by the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, which will be broadcast on TV, radio or the emergency sirens in Richmond.

Hazardous chemicals can be released in Madison County from area factories, trucks containing chemicals traveling on I-75 or the railroad or from the BGAD.

The BGAD, located on U.S. 25 South and Ky. 421, will be required to dispose of the 523 tons of chemicals located there by 2007, according to the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty passed by Congress.

The Depot has housed munitions containing the nerve agent sarin or mustard gas since 1944.

Army officials determined last December that neutralization would be the most viable option for disposing of the chemicals.

“If the chemicals did get here it would be in low concentration, so it might be better to seal up and stay put,” Westbrook said.