Back To Basics: Part 3

Hazardous materials and terrorist incidents can occur anywhere at any time. Communities with chemical manufacturing plants can plan for incidents because of their known risk. Hazardous materials are also transported on highways, railways and waterways...


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Hazardous materials and terrorist incidents can occur anywhere at any time. Communities with chemical manufacturing plants can plan for incidents because of their known risk. Hazardous materials are also transported on highways, railways and waterways on a daily basis, so no community is without vulnerability.

7_01_hazmat1.jpg
Photo by Robert Burke
Major emergencies may require evacuation of the public or protection in place. This derailment of a train carrying flammable products in Weyauwega, WI, in 1996 triggered a hazmat incident that lasted 18 days and forced the evacuation of the entire town.

The threat of terrorism also places communities at risk. Regardless of whether the threat is to a fixed facility, transportation or other potential acts of terrorism, every community should have plans in place for protection of the population should a hazmat release or terrorist incident occur.

In addition to protecting themselves, first responders must also protect the public from contact with hazardous materials. Besides establishing the "hot zone" and denying entry to the public, responders may also have to evacuate the public or shelter people in place.

Evacuation and isolation area distance information can be obtained from the green- or orange-bordered pages of the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG). The green section provides information for materials that pose a health hazard. Inhalation is the primary route of exposure and this section is used only when no fire is involved. Distances provided in the green section are based on computer models of small and large spills. Spills are further classified by daytime and nighttime occurrences. Because air is more stable at night, vapor clouds can remain together for longer periods and thus travel greater distances than in the daytime. When materials are on fire, the orange section of the ERG is used to determine isolation and evacuation distances.

Training on the proper use of the ERG is very important for first responders. Resources are limited in the first minutes of a hazmat or terrorist incident. Responders may only be able to assist persons who are immediately in harm's way. Others will have to be moved or sheltered as the incident progresses.

If the public is to be evacuated from homes or businesses, an evacuation center needs to be established to receive and care for the needs of the evacuees. Workplaces and schools may have internal emergency plans that should be considered when evacuation or sheltering in place involves their facility. Emergency management agencies and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) have developed plans for the entire community covering notification, evacuation and sheltering-in-place procedures to be used during hazmat incidents. Evacuation plans should identify evacuation centers for those who are displaced.

7_01_hazmat2.jpg
Photo by Robert Burke
Emergency responders must have thorough awareness-level training for hazardous materials and terrorism-response training to avoid serious injury or death.

State and local emergency management agencies also have the resources to notify the public through the Emergency Action System (EAS) (formerly the Emergency Broadcast System), sirens, and radio and TV broadcasts. By contacting the emergency management agency, responders can set in motion procedures for notifying and protecting the public.

Whether evacuated or sheltered in place, those in danger need to be notified of the danger and given instructions on what to do. People who would be placed in greater danger by evacuation than if they stayed in place can be sheltered. Residents of communities should be encouraged to have disaster supplies on hand in the event they have to shelter in place. These include:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Portable, battery-operated radios and extra batteries.
  • First-aid kits and manuals.
  • Emergency food and water.
  • Non-electric can openers.
  • Essential medicines.
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