A Continuing Need for Accurate All-Hazard Assessments

There is general agreement that accurate and reasonably comprehensive risk assessments are needed before making major decisions of almost any type. Far too often, though, many of those assessments are based on erroneous assumptions. In today’s world, risks associated with various types of chemicals are among the least understood, outside of the chemical industry itself.

Risk assessments are particularly important in communities that are heavily involved in the chemical production, storage, processing, and supply-chain industries. Nonetheless, whether considered as a whole, or only in part, the need for an accurate understanding of chemical risks is essential throughout the United States.

Current and future fiscal constraints in both the public and private sectors – compounded with changes in threat characteristics involving extreme violence and/or cyber attacks – enhance the need for accurate hazards analysis. Failure to minimize the various unknowns in hazards analysis of risk assessment models in effect magnifies errors in both vulnerability and consequence assessments. Moreover, any initial hazard assumptions that prove to be erroneous often contribute to costly errors in planning, capital expenditures, and consequence management.

A Current “High-Risk” Example When updating its risk assessment and emergency response procedures in 2013, the administration, staff, and engaged stakeholders at one high-value “site” –entification necessarily anonymous, but one with custodial responsibility for the safety of a large number of people – were particularly concerned with the perceived consequences of potential accidents involving rail cars and an ethanol transfer station within one mile of the site. Before conducting an official risk assessment, the response procedures for hazardous material contingencies at or near the site included the full evacuation from the site, of those considered to be in danger, to a large shopping center parking lot several streets away. Added to the dangers posed by crossing several busy streets was the fact that many of those under the site’s custodial care have diminished mobility, which may hamper swift and independent movement.

The assumptive hazards assessment supported a response scenario that envisioned a toxic cloud moving slowly toward the site. Sheltering in place was deemed to be a secondary response procedure in the event that the toxic cloud was moving toward the site at a fairly rapid speed. Unfortunately, the shelter-in-place procedures did not include shutting down the site’s air handling (HVAC) system.

Considering the physical properties and characteristics of the actual chemical products in transit near the site and the combustible properties and characteristics of an ethanol transfer operation, the basis for the response procedures already in place were questionable. Those responsible for safety procedures at the site had used “technical” guidance from engaged stakeholders and site officials, but they failed to consider the hazmat expertise available through the local fire department. A meeting – between the parties involved and the fire department’s hazmat professionals – was convened to accurately assess the chemical hazards in close proximity to the potentially endangered site.

That meeting led to a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the unique transit restrictions for hazardous materials anywhere near the site. As a result, the earlier somewhat vague concerns were replaced by reality. In this example, no toxic-release chemical currently transits the rail system near this site – and common carrier hazmat movements by truck, it was agreed, are not a relevant hazard to that area. As for the potential risk posed by the ethanol transfer station, the materials transfer rate and procedures being followed significantly minimize the potential impact from flammable combustion (the worst-case scenario for the chemicals involved). Moreover, any evacuation requirements would be dictated by the fire department incident commander.

After assessing the real risks, site officials prudently adjusted the response procedures to shelter in place as the first option – possibly followed by an orderly evacuation, with enough time available to arrange transportation directly from the site to a safe area. The new procedures eliminate the risks associated with moving occupants across busy streets to a shopping center parking lot.

Many Advantages of Accurately Avoiding Risk The preceding real-life situation is an accurate microcosm example in which initial errors in hazard assessments led to the adoption of procedures that posed unnecessary risk to the site’s occupants – and to the organization as a whole. If an incident had actually occurred at that site, the procedures previously adopted would have further strained the emergency response resources available by substantively contributing to a predictable and preventable emergency – for example, one or more of the site’s high-value occupants being injured or killed in a pedestrian-vehicle collision during evacuation.

Considering the degree to which emergency planning is becoming more commonplace in communities across the nation, particularly in the private sector and non-emergency agencies of the public sector, the need for accurate hazard assessments continues to grow. The whole-community resilience model now being adopted in many states and cities throughout the country offers solutions in the form of public-private sector team building. The community-based team-building approach already available provides hazard-specific expertise from the nation’s local and national fire, hazmat, emergency medical services, public health, and law enforcement communities.

Accurate hazard analytics is the foundation of the efficient and economical procedures that can be achieved by incorporating best practices to mitigate and manage real risks. Accurate and comprehensive public/private-sector emergency planning also greatly enhances the mutual situational understanding of planned response actions, thereby grounding mutual expectations and improving the cohesion of integrated responses.

Joseph W. Trindal

As founder and president of Direct Action Resilience LLC, Joseph Trindal leads a team of retired federal, state, and local criminal justice officials providing consulting and training services to public and private sector organizations enhancing leadership, risk management, preparedness, and police services. He serves as a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Justice, International Criminal Justice Training and Assistance Program (ICITAP) developing and leading delivery of programs that build post-conflict nations’ capabilities for democratic policing and applied modern investigative techniques. After a 20-year career with the U.S. Marshals Service, where he served as chief deputy U.S. marshal and ERT incident commander, he accepted the invitation in 2002 to become part of the leadership standing up the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as director at Federal Protective Service for the National Capital Region. He serves on the Partnership Advisory Council at the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST). He also serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Managers of Police Academy and College Training. He was on faculty as an instructor at George Washington University. He is past president of the InfraGard National Capital Region Members Alliance. He has published numerous articles, academic papers, and technical counter-terrorism training programs. He has two sons on active duty in the U.S. Navy. Himself a Marine Corps veteran, he holds degrees in police science and criminal justice. He has contributed to the Domestic Preparedness Journal since 2006 and is a member of the Preparedness Leadership Council.



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