2008 Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook

Aug. 1, 2008
The 2008 edition of the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is being distributed to emergency response organizations across the United States and Canada. Designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Transport Canada, and the Mexican Secretariat of Transport and Communications in collaboration with CIQUIME (Centro de Información Química para Emergencias) of Argentina, the ERG is intended for the use of first-responding emergency personnel to a hazardous materials or terrorist incident.

The ERG is designed for first responders who by federal law have a limited capability to deal with hazardous materials because of limited training and lack of proper chemical protective equipment and other resources. The ERG is intended to be used during the initial response phase of an incident, usually before the arrival of a hazardous materials team. Hazmat teams may find some of the information in the ERG useful, but it is intended to help first responders quickly identify general hazards of the material(s) involved in an incident and protect themselves and the public during the initial phase of an incident. Personnel should find as much additional specific information about the material(s) involved as they can. The guidebook is only one source of information. Other sources include 24-hour contacts CHEMTREC (800-424-9300), the National Response Center (NRC) (800-424-8802), CHEM-TEL (888-255-3924), INFOTRAC (1-800-535-5053), 3E Co. (800-451-8346), National Poison Control Center (800-222-1222), shipping papers and material safety data sheets (MSDS).

In order for the ERG to be of the greatest benefit to responders, they must become thoroughly familiar with its contents before it is used during an actual emergency. OSHA (29 CFR) 1910.120 and EPA (40 CFR) Part 311 both require first responders to be trained on the use of the ERG. Within the ERG are a number of White pages that explain how the book is organized and first-response tips for emergency personnel.

The 2008 ERG is divided into four major color-coded sections: Yellow, Blue, Orange and Green. It contains 372 pages, including a Placard Chart; Railcar and Road Trailer Charts; Yellow Numerical and Blue Alphabetical listings; Orange Action Guides; Green Table 1 Protective Action Distances; Green Table 2 Water Reactive Materials That Produce Toxic Gases; protective clothing; a glossary; information about terrorist response; and miscellaneous information. Three new placards have been added to the Placard Chart; Intermodal Tanks have been added to the Road Trailer Chart; a new section on Pipeline Transportation has been added to the White pages, including examples of signage; and a new Orange Guide on page 147 has been added for lithium ion batteries. Information has been added to other sections of the book as well, and some data has been updated. The four-page section covering Criminal/Terrorist Use of Chemical/Biological (CB) Agents provides information to response personnel during the preliminary assessment of a potential terrorist incident involving chemical or biological agents. A list of observable indicators of the use and/or presence of a CB agent is provided on pages 352-355. There is no change in the total number of pages in the 2008 ERG compared to the 2004 edition.

Once on scene, first responders have four basic responsibilities: recognize, notify, isolate and protect. First and most importantly, response personnel must protect themselves before taking any actions at a hazmat incident. Information on personal protective clothing can be found on pages 348-349. When response personnel determine that a hazmat or terrorist event has occurred, they should access the ERG for assistance.

Emergency Contacts

When first responders arrive at an incident, they are expected to recognize the presence of dangerous goods, protect themselves and the public, secure the area and call for the assistance of trained personnel. Those notifications can be placed into three general categories: organization/agency, emergency response telephone number and national assistance. National resources are identified on pages 10-11 and 372-373. Pages 10-11 contain information concerning whom to notify during a hazmat incident.

If the material spilled is a marine pollutant or if oil products are spilled on the water, the National Response Center should be notified. If an RQ is listed on the shipping papers, the material is a reportable quantity of the hazardous material, and if spilled, the NRC must be contacted in addition to any other notifications made. NRC is the notification, communications, technical assistance and coordination center for the National Response Team (NRT). It can provide much of the same information on chemicals that CHEMTREC does through its OM-TADS database. NRC should also be contacted to report chemical or biological terrorist attacks.

Pages 11 and 372 provide information on emergencies involving military shipments. Two contact numbers are provided, for explosives or ammunition incidents call 703-697-0218, collect calls are accepted, all other dangerous goods incidents should be referred to 800-851-8061. These numbers are for emergencies only. An updated glossary is on pages 356-364.

Shipping Papers

Inside the front cover is an example of the type of information found on shipping papers. Emergency responders should use the emergency contact number found in the upper left corner of the papers first when trying to gain information about a product. If shipping papers are not available, then the 24-hour CHEMTREC number (800-424-9300) should be used. Shipping papers on highway transportation vehicles are in the cab of the vehicle. Railroad shipping papers will be in the possession of the train crew. Shipping papers on water vessels are in a "mail box" on a barge or in a holder on the bridge of a tug or ship. During air transportation, shipping papers are in the cockpit or are in the pilot's possession.

Response personnel should have a basic understanding of the metric system of weights and measures to better understand the terminology used in certain sections of the ERG2008. Along with the shipping papers, or attached to them, must be information that outlines the hazards of the product that can be used in the mitigation of a hazmat emergency. Attaching an Orange Guide page to the papers or having a copy of the ERG available for use satisfies this requirement.

Pipeline Transit

Hazardous materials are transported in North America through millions of miles of underground pipelines. Products commonly transported through pipelines include natural gas, crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Although the pipelines are buried, aboveground structures and signs indicate their presence. The 2008 ERG contains a new section on Pipeline Transportation starting on page 24. Regulator stations, customer meters and regulators, and valve box covers are generally the only aboveground indications of gas distribution pipelines.

Should you notice a leak or a spill, remember to only approach from upwind and uphill, identify the emergency telephone number for the company and then call that number as well as 911. Be cautious concerning the risks of asphyxiation, flammability as well as the danger of a potential explosion. If you know the material involved, identify the three-digit guide number by looking up the name in the alphabetical list (blue-bordered pages) and then by using the three-digit guide number, consult the recommendations outlined in the recommended guide.

Placard Table

Only when a four-digit identification number is unavailable and the name of the material is unknown should responders refer to the table of placards on pages 16-17 for placards and labels displayed on containers and transportation vehicles. The placard table shows three new placards used under the DOT regulations that were not shown in the 2004 guidebook. The new placards are with the Poison Placards, Oxidizer Placards and the Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods Placards. In a circle next to each placard on the table is an action guide number from the orange section, which is used for materials displaying the placard shown. When a Dangerous Placard is displayed, guide 111 is used for mixed loads or unidentified cargo. If the nature of the spilled, leaking or burning material is unknown, additional information must be obtained as soon as possible.

Orange action guides are grouped by hazard class and special information surrounding the shipment. A listing of hazard classes is on page 14. This listing corresponds with the hazard classes represented on the placard table. Information is provided from the DOT's placarding and labeling system.

Rail Car and Road Trailer Charts

New pages were added to the 2000 ERG with silhouettes of rail cars and road trailers. The 2008 edition has one new addition to the Road Trailer Section, the Intermodal Tank. A wide variety of rail cars and road trailer vehicles transport liquids, compressed gases, liquefied compressed gases, refrigerated liquids, flammable solids and molten solids, to name a few. While the container type may indicate the physical state of the material inside, more identification about the product before any mitigation efforts are initiated. The information presented in the 2208 ERG gives responders a generic idea of the hazards associated with bulk-transportation containers. Orange Guide page numbers have been provided for use depending on the type of container involved in an incident. They can be found in a circle next to individual rail cars and road trailers on the charts. These guide pages should be used only when no other information is available. The "Rail Car Identification Chart" is on page 18 and the "Road Trailer Identification chart" is on page 19.

  • Yellow Section - The Yellow Section, starting on page 27, contains a numerical listing of the United Nations four-digit identification numbers found on placards on vehicles transporting bulk quantities of hazardous materials. Once the four-digit number is located in the Yellow Section, reference is made to an action guide in the Orange Section.
  • Blue Section - Alphabetical listings of the same materials found in the Yellow Section are in the Blue Section, starting on page 97. This section is used only if the name of the hazardous material is known. Both the Yellow and Blue Sections reflect new additions of chemicals not contained in the 2004 guidebook. When a material listed in the Yellow or Blue Sections is highlighted in green, initial isolation and protective action distances for that chemical are listed in the Green Section, starting on page 300. Highlighting the materials listed in the Yellow and Blue Sections using the color Green is new to the 2008 ERG. Evacuation distances in the Green Section are used only if a material is not on fire. If a material is on fire, see the evacuation distances listed in the Orange Section.
  • Orange Section - Protective action guides numbered 111-172 start on page 168. Each protective action guide provides procedures to preserve the health and safety of the public and emergency response personnel during the initial stages of a hazmat incident. Once an Orange Guide page is identified for a particular chemical; read the entire page before taking any action. Actions taken should not exceed the level of training and equipment available to response personnel. Guide pages in the Orange Section are divided into three major sections: Potential Hazards, Public Safety and Emergency Response. The Potential Hazards section is subdivided into two sections: fire or explosion, and health hazards. Public Safety is divided into three sections: general information, protective clothing and evacuation. Emergency Response is divided into three sections: fire, which includes evacuation and isolation information; recommended extinguishing agents; and when to use unmanned monitors and withdraw from the area. Also included in the Orange Section are spill or leak procedures, including isolation and evacuation distances and first-aid information. Several guides also contain loss-of-cooling information for materials that must be maintained at a certain temperature to remain stable.
  • Green Protective Action and Water Reactive Section - Initial isolation and protective action distances for materials highlighted in the Yellow and Blue Sections are in the Green Section, starting on page 300. New to the 2008 ERG is the labeling of the tables in the Green Section. Table 1 contains the Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances that can be found on pages 298-299. The Green Section lists Table 1 materials by United Nations (UN) 4-digit ID number and chemical name. Initial evacuation and protective action distances in the 2008 ERG have been "tuned-up," which will mean some values are different in the 2008 edition in comparison to the 2004 ERG. Fluctuations in the isolation and downwind protection distances occur because of improvements in computer modeling used to determine the distances. A graphic showing set-up of initial isolation and protective action guide distances is shown on pages 298 and 299 of the Green Section. When a material in the Yellow or Blue Section is highlighted, responders should go directly to the Green Section to obtain isolation and evacuation distances. Information on wind direction should be obtained as soon as possible.

Table 2 materials listed in the Green Section are Water Reactive Materials Which Produce Toxic Gases. Materials are also listed by UN four-digit number and chemical name. Also listed are the Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials produced by contact of the original product with water.


The 2008 ERG is a valuable tool for identifying hazardous materials and determining the proper actions to be taken by first responders. Just as first responders are limited in what they can do at the scene of a hazardous materials emergency, the guidebook is limited in the amount of information it provides. It is not intended to be used during the mitigation phase of the incident and therefore should not be used as one of the reference materials selected to determine mitigation methods. Free copies of the 2008 ERG are provided by the United States Department of Transportation to all police, fire, EMS and other emergency response organizations through a selected agency in each state. Your state agency can be determined by contacting the DOT Office of Hazardous Materials Transportation Research and Special Programs at 202) 366-0656. State contacts for the 2008 ERG are also listed on the DOT website http://hazmat.dot.gov/pubs/erg/statecoord.htm.

The author has developed a training course for the 2008 ERG that is available in a PowerPoint CD-ROM version. In addition to the PowerPoint slides, each CD contains an electronic version of the ERG for PCs and one for Pocket PCs, a DOT Chart 13, Burke Placard Hazard Chart, Instructor Guide, Student Manual, list of state ERG contacts, list of private-sector sources, course certificate template and final exam. Information may be obtained by e-mailing [email protected], faxing 410-760-2549 or accessing www.hazardousmaterialspage.com.

ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland Baltimore. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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