Dynamics Of Terrorism

Terrorism has been a buzzword in the fire and emergency services for several years, yet it is still very new and dynamic in terms of general knowledge, technology, training and response procedures. Changes occur almost daily as manufacturers scramble to...


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Training for the 120 largest cities continues with personnel in over 50 trained to date. The list has been expanded to cover 157 of the largest cities and counties nationwide.

EPA Chemical Safety Alert For Decontamination

During the spring of 1999, the team leader of the Chemical Weapons Improved Response Program (CWIRP), U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command sent a letter to the EPA regarding first responder liability during a terrorist incident. The letter specifically asked what the first responder liability was for spreading contamination while attempting to save lives, i.e., during decon where runoff might contain contamination. Implications also spread beyond the terrorist incident to include hazardous materials spills as well. The primary concern is whether responders should take care of victims using emergency decontamination or first make sure the environment will not be damaged by decon operations.

During a recent federally sponsored multi-agency drill, response personnel were faced with a terrorist release of nerve agent. Hazmat teams were charged with rescue and decontamination of victims exposed to the agent prior to medical treatment. It was determined that the runoff from the decon operation should be collected to prevent a release into the environment. Entry was delayed for an hour to await the arrival and deployment of pools to collect the runoff water. By the time decon was performed, the "victims" had succumbed to the nerve agent exposure. However, the water was collected and the environment was protected!

As a result of the request from CWIRP, the EPA has issued a Chemical Safety Alert. Excerpts are presented in the following information.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Section 107 (d) Rendering Care or Advice, provides guidance for this issue. Section 107 (d)(1), also known as the "Good Samaritan" provision, states: "No person shall be liable under this subchapter for costs or damages as a result of actions taken or omitted in the course of rendering care, assistance or advice in accordance with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) or at the direction of an on-scene coordinator appointed under such plan, with respect to an incident creating a danger to public health or welfare or the environment as a result of any releases of a hazardous substance or the threat thereof." Negligence, as should be expected, is not covered. Chemical or biological releases at a terrorist incident would be considered hazardous materials incidents and CERCLA 107 (d)(1) would apply.

Section 107 (d)(2) further states that state and local governments are not liable under CERCLA "as a result of actions taken in response to an emergency created by the release or threatened release of a hazardous substance generated by or from a facility owned by another person." This section would insulate state and local governments from potential CERCLA liability arising from first responder actions. It does not, however, apply to costs of damage caused by gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

During hazmat incidents, including chemical/biological terrorist events, first responders should take necessary emergency actions to save lives and protect the public and themselves. Once imminent threats to human health and lives are addressed, first responders should immediately take all reasonable efforts to contain the contamination and avoid or mitigate environmental consequences. Further information can be obtained from the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Hotline at 800-424-9346 or 703-412-9810. The CEPPO homepage can be accessed at www.epa.gov.ceppo/.

FBI Intelligence Report

FBI intelligence officer numbers have grown almost fivefold during the Clinton administration. The FBI has placed a high priority on preventing terrorist attacks in this country. While the actual numbers of field agents assigned to terrorism is secret, sources cite a significant increase.