Traditionally, experience has taught hazmat responders that time spent conducting pre-incident planning activities in regard to possible hazardous materials incidents pays off huge dividends when the tones hit and responses begin. While we normally think of pre-incident planning activities in terms of preparing for the initial response phase of a hazmat incident, we should also focus our pre-planning efforts on extended scene operations and management at major incidents and recovery operations following such incidents. This concept relates back to one of my high school English classes in which we learned to construct essays by creating an introduction, stating your point, and then ending with a conclusion — e.g. tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. We should strive to do the same by planning for any possible hazmat incidents, planning for extended scene operations at those same incidents and planning for the recovery from same.
In regard to planning for the initial response phase of a hazmat incident, the first rule of thumb is GET OUT OF THE STATION! Hazmat responders should visit the hazmat target hazards in their territory whether those hazards take the form of fixed facilities or transportation routes. When we perform such pre-planning functions, we not only develop information pertaining to the chemicals present and the facility itself; but we also become familiar with the personnel we will interface with when an incident happens. The latter is especially important, as the time to get to know the capabilities and operating methods of facility/property representatives, and vice-versa, is not on the incident scene. An equally important pre-planning and pre-incident activity is participating in joint training with facility/property representatives. This training can take the form of focused classroom and/or practical training, ideally followed up by exercises of a tabletop then full-scale nature to evaluate the effectiveness of the training. Fixed facilities and transportation companies are usually very receptive to such training endeavors, as they are a win-win situation for both parties.
Site visits to target hazmat hazards can also be combined with hazardous materials reporting data such as Tier II Reports, or hazmat transportation data such as commodity flow studies, to develop quick reference guides designed to reference the most likely to occur scenarios for a given location. Such quick reference guides for fixed facilities, for example, may consist of lists of the most hazardous commodities located at a facility accompanied by chemical and physical property information, site-specific mitigation measures, and chemical protective clothing compatibility for each. These quick reference guides then serve as our “playbook” for our game day — the response to a hazmat incident.
The next area of our pre-incident planning activities that we will discuss relates to the management of hazardous materials incidents, especially those spanning multiple operational periods. When hazmat responders participate in the mandated Incident Command System classes, the prevailing thought is “When will I ever use all of these ICS Forms and concepts?” The truth of the matter is although you will not use the forms and concepts on a daily, weekly, or even possibly monthly basis, when a multiple operational period hazmat incident occurs personnel need to know how to use the appropriate forms and to competently manage such an incident. This knowledge base can be bolstered by intertwining relevant incident management concepts into each hazmat training activity that is performed, as the key element to proficiency is the frequency of use.
An ICS Form that is of great benefit at any hazmat incident is the ICS-208 HM Site Safety and Control Plan. Although the ICS-208 HM is not often found in many ICS Form compilations at the present time, it does serve the valuable function of documenting the appropriate safety and operational concepts relating to an incident for easy and effective dissemination to all personnel. The ICS-208 HM can also be modified to tailor it to specific jurisdictions and operational methods. We can also prepare for our hazmat responses by developing position-specific checklists that serve as job aids on the incident scene. Such checklists can pertain to any position from Decontamination Group Supervisor to Entry Group Supervisor and all positions in between. No matter what our experience level is in performing position-specific functions, we always stand the chance of forgetting an important function at a hazmat incident and the checklists described above serve to reduce the chances of such an occurrence.
Our final area of discussion relating to pre-incident planning is an area that is most often overlooked — that of post-incident restoration and recovery. While it is true that hazmat response team personnel normally mitigate the hazards of the incident and then following activities are performed by private contractors or facility personnel, as emergency responders we should pre-plan for critical restoration and recovery measures that are required to restore key infrastructure assets. Private-sector firms are usually very adept in the performance of business continuity planning that allows their business “downtime” following an incident to be minimized. We should also embrace such planning measures that apply to our critical infrastructure by examining the “what-ifs,” such as, what if a railroad hazmat incident and fire renders a major highway overpass above the incident unusable for an extended period of time? Restoration and recovery pre-planning activities should also not be conducted in an isolated vacuum, but rather with the inclusion of other applicable departments and organizations.
In summation, traditional pre-planning efforts focusing on initial response actions at a hazmat incident should be accompanied by pre-planning activities concentrating on incident management at multiple operational period hazmat incidents; and restoration and recovery efforts taking place following a hazmat incident. Such pre-planning measures are truly a “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” process in which we comprehensively address all phases of the pre-planning process to ensure successful hazmat incident outcomes. As always, stay safe out there and be sure to visit the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders website at www.nchazmat.com
Glenn Clapp is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders and is a division chief with the Town of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina Fire Department. He has over 20 years of fire service and emergency management experience and is a Technician-Level Hazmat Instructor, a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist.