With some preparation and the support of emergency agencies, plants using anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant can find help if they should have a major leak.

A program of the federal government's National Communications System, the Government Emergency Telecommunications System (GETS) is available to authorized users considered important to national security or emergency preparedness. GETS relies on a variety of telecommunications systems, starting with the main trunks of key long-distance providers. Even when long-distance carriers deliberately block calls to an area to permit emergency services use, which they did to New York on September 11, GETS calls make it through because they are routed over other channels such as military or diplomatic systems.

According to Coldcodes, a newsletter devoted to "current awareness for refrigerated facilities," a serious release of anhydrous ammonia at a refrigeration plant might qualify as an immediate threat to public and environmental health, making the plant eligible to be a GETS user. The federal government has been emphasizing the need to secure critical U.S. infrastructures, which includes the chemical industry and hazardous materials.

Because industrial participants in GETS must be sponsored by a government entity, Coldcodes notes that the most appropriate sponsor for a refrigeration plant is the facility area's local emergency planning committee. But other entities such as the local or state Emergency Management Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Department of Homeland Security also could act as a sponsor. Federal agencies may take on a refrigeration plant, for example, if the facility is a member of or associated with the Chemical Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

To find answers to frequently asked GETS questions or to contact GETS officials via e-mail, go to www.ncs.gov/faq.html#gets.