Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weather Service HAZMAT Page

I ran across a very brief notice at yesterday. It noted that the National Weather Service had created a special HAZMAT page for the Chicago area. The one paragraph article notes that Chicago is a rail, highway and air hub. It noted that those hubs could create "special HAZMAT situations".

Chicago HAZMAT Support Page

I went to the indicated page and sure enough there it was. It is not an extensive page so I’ll reproduce the information almost completely. I checked two other cities NWS sites and did not find a comparable page.

"NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CHICAGO HAZMAT SUPPORT PAGE The National Weather Service office in Romeoville is the primary agency for real-time atmospheric expertise and NCEP model guidance 24 hours a day. Recent events including terrorist incidents, accidental releases of hazardous materials, and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction have resulted in enhanced coordination between the emergency response community and the National Weather Service.

Support offered by the National Weather Service includes but is not limited to:

    • "interpretation of current and forecasted weather conditions
    • "trajectory/dispersion modeling (HYSPLIT)
    • "actual on-scene weather support for weather interpretation and incident mitigation

"National Weather Service Hazmat support can be initiated by contacting the Romeoville office at: 815-834-0651, 24 hours a day / 7 days a week."

Emergency Response Plan Aid

Any chemical facility in the Chicago area should contact their office to find out what information is available and how to best use it. I am not familiar with the HYSPLIT model, but a quick web search shows that it has been used to predict movement of smoke clouds and potential downwind dispersion of radioactive fallout. It is probably not something that one would want to try to learn on the fly, but it could certainly be valuable to predict the movement of a toxic cloud.

The potential value of this type information in an actual HAZMAT situation is immeasurable. Any facility developing a chemical emergency response plan in the Chicago area should certainly investigate this site.

Why Only Chicago?

I’m not sure that this service is limited to the Chicago area, I only had time for a limited search. If it is just a trial program by the NWS, then DHS needs to get involved to see what can be done to get this duplicated in other parts of the country. Areas such as North New Jersey, Houston, TX, Charleston, WV to name just a few, all come to immediate mind as areas that could find this to be an invaluable part of their emergency response toolbox.

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