Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Need for Standardizing the Distribution of Emergency Response Information

Editorial by Russell Bowen

Andy Rooney, from the TV show of 60 Minutes, isn’t the only one with an opinion. Everyone has an opinion on something. Here are some opinions that I have concerning the life endangering topic of hazardous materials or dangerous goods information during a transportation incident or accident. Unless the entire emergency response community demands and receives the best that industry currently can provide, who wins?

For all first responders to a transportation emergency scene involving an aircraft or a surface vehicle, one of the first considerations, in my opinion, should be:

"Are there any hazardous materials on board and if so, where and how much?"

While one of the primary objectives for first responders is to neutralize and contain a hazardous materials spill or incident, the safety and well-being of the responders and others involved in the incident must also be a priority.

A way of notifying any emergency responder of critical hazmat information should be available immediately upon demand and automated. An automated Notification to the Pilot in Command (NOTOC) or “NOPIC or Pilot Notification Form (PNF)” or Truck Manifest that has emergency response information from two sources contained on it would certainly fill the bill here. Although there has been much talk and meetings on the subject, including a meeting in Washington D.C., by interested parties, little has been done to resolve the lack of timely, accurate and automated hazmat information to all emergency responders.

The first source of information should be from the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) that was developed jointly by the US Department of Transportation, Transport Canada, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation of Mexico (SCT). The second source is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Emergency Response Guidance for Aircraft Incidents involving dangerous goods (known as the ICAO Red Book). For the first responder, these sources of information are essential for not only addressing the incident but also conveying information about protective clothing, evacuation and first aid.

Onboard the aircraft, the pilot and crew could be considered the first line of defense involving any type of emergency, including a hazardous material spill or incident, and they are in essence the first responders while the aircraft is in the air. Emergency procedures will differ onboard an aircraft in flight vs. procedures to follow while the aircraft is on the ground. Under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the ICAO Red Book has been developed with the assistance of the Dangerous Goods Panel to provide guidance to countries and airlines for dealing with dangerous goods emergencies while the aircraft is in the air. 

The crew is supplied information related to the inherent risk, risk to aircraft, risk to occupants, spill or leak procedures, firefighting procedures and additional considerations. On board a truck, the procedures for addressing emergency response are outlined on a Truck Manifest using the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG), including inhalation hazards procedures and ERIP Name or Contract number if provided.

The information made available to all should also include the name of the chemical, the UN identification number, class hazard, the degree of danger known as the UN Packing Group Number, quantity per package and a description of the package and where on the aircraft or truck the package is located. 

This information should be immediately available from the airline involved to a first responders, free of charge, by using the world wide web. The entire NOTOC or Truck Manifest form should be made available to be immediately e-mailed to any MAPI-compliant e-mail address anywhere in the world within seconds (terminals, smart phones, airport towers, response vehicles, etc.). 

While en-route to the scene of a hazmat incident, a first responder that has a smartphone should receive not only the NOTOC or Truck Manifest via e-mail , but also receive a summary in the front end of that e-mail of all of the dangerous goods onboard the aircraft or truck by position number, reflecting total quantity by class hazard, ERG Guide Numbers as well as emergency response telephone numbers of the emergency response information provider.

These opinions are that of just one person. Should there be more consideration given to the topic? Unless the entire emergency response community demands and receives the best that industry can currently provide, who wins?