Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Working with Local First Responders
I ran into an interesting article over on MarshallNews.com that tells an important story about how chemical facilities coordinate and work with their supporting first responders. Interestingly, it was a food processing facility with an anhydrous ammonia refrigeration system that took the extra effort that all chemical facilities (especially high-risk facilities) should take to ensure that first responders understand the chemical hazards at the facility. In this case the Cargill meat processing facility provided in depth information about the characteristics, both physical and toxicological, of anhydrous ammonia. They explained how to knock down the toxic cloud as well as the precautions to take while doing that critical emergency response task. They explained the difference between the ‘worst case scenario’ (a catastrophic failure of the 44,000 lb storage tank potentially affecting up to 450 personnel off-site) and a bad leak that could affect no more than 5 nearby residents. Finally, they took the emergency responders on a facility tour that showed the relative location of the buildings, the storage tank, and the anhydrous ammonia pipes for the refrigeration system (including shut-off valves on that piping). While the maintenance personnel showed the firefighters the details of the plumbing, the facility safety manager showed police, EMS, and even 911 personnel around the plant so that they could understand the layout of the facility. Now what really impressed me about this presentation was not the detail of the presentation to the firefighters and EMS personnel, after all that is self-preservation, or even the inclusion of the police and 911 personnel (that was a smart and creative move). No what surprised and impressed me was that the management was smart enough to include a press representative in the audience. After all, now the local public has a better understanding of the hazards at the facility and how they are being protected from those hazards. The only way that I could have been more impressed would have been if they had included local school, church and civic leaders in the presentation. Maybe they will include those personnel when they talk to their 450 neighbors that could be affected by a catastrophic release. If this facility were a CFATS covered facility (probably not given the small number of people in the worst case danger zone), then security issues would also have been addressed. I would expect that a facility this concerned about communicating with first responders would do a similar job in showing the local law enforcement personnel the ins and outs of the security system at the facility.