HazMat Professional Response Relieves Irrational Public Fears

The first priority for an emergency response team at a hazardous materials incident is public safety, but professional performance also relieves irrational fears and unwarranted negative publicity, said Scott L Turner, president and chief executive officer of HMHTTC Inc.

Turner spoke at the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) annual safety council seminar April 8-9 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Mark Munley, emergency response program manager for Ferguson Harbour Inc, said a recent Georgia incident in which a 40-inch gas pipeline ruptured could have ended with the evacuation of 900 families, but quick and appropriate response by a safety team prevented the unnecessary inconvenience.

Alleviating public concern is the result of advanced preparation in order to meet the challenges that are presented when an incident occurs. "Failing to plan is planning to fail," said Turner.

Munley agreed that planning is essential. "An emergency preparedness plan should provide the foundation for thinking under stress," he said. When a plan is in place, the information expedites action at the scene of the accident and prepares responders to communicate with the many groups that may be involved in a hazardous materials spill.

An emergency preparedness program should be written in a basic and simple manner, be flexible and organized, and be based on facts and valid assumptions. A successful program minimizes injuries and loss of life, and protects the area the product has penetrated, said Munley. Although one person should be in command at the scene, responsibilities should be delegated and coordinated.

Turner and Munley emphasized the response teams' ability to oversee actions taken by public officials whose agencies have authorized fees and fines. "You should check to see if a city has a cost recovery ordinance before paying any bills you receive," said Turner. "There can be excessive charges for foam, bags, and other supplies that they may use. And, there's always the danger that they may not be qualified to handle the situation and complicate an already serious condition. I've seen them cut battery cables while standing in kerosene and use tow trucks that aren't capable of uprighting the damaged vehicle."

He recommended that an inventory form, which lists the supplies used at the accident, be presented to officials at the scene. "Have it signed," added Turner.

Munley advised shippers and carriers to take a team approach with a qualified leader at the helm. Safety, environmental, and terminal managers should all be part of the task force and participate in a joint planning committee.

He listed four deployment categories: Class A, major incident involving oil or chemical spill, an explosion or possibility of an explosion where air or media (soil, groundwater, etc) monitoring will or can be a critical element. Class B incident involving oil or chemical spill, explosion or possibility of an explosion where air or media monitoring may or can be a critical element. Class C incident involving oil or chemical spill, explosion or possibility of an explosion where air or media monitoring may not be a critical element. Class D incident involving oil or chemical spill, explosion or possibility of an explosion where air or media monitoring is not a critical element.

To determine if an emergency response contractor is qualified for the various types of hazardous materials incidents, a company should evaluate the contractor's locations, resources, experience, fee structure, insurance, and accessibility. "Their 800 number shouldn't be an answering service," he said. "Know where your contractors are so that they can respond immediately."

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