Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reader Comments – 02-14-09

On Saturday Fred Millar, a long time reader and commenter, left comments on three of last weeks blogs. Railroad Re-Routing On my posting about SOCMA and IST Fred noted that there is currently an IST (potentially anyway) program for PIH rail shipments; the recent railroad routing rules. While I would not have thought of this as an IST measure, there is a measure truth in Fred’s claim. One way to make these rail shipments safer and more secure is to route them around high-threat urban areas (HTUA). Neither Fred nor I are anywhere near confident that the new rules will result in significant changes in railroad routings of these hazardous chemicals. Fred does make a point that an aggressive effort by Obama’s Transportation Department to use these rules to force railroad re-routing in the most egregious instances is more likely than under the Bush Administration. Still, such enforcement actions will be more than a year away. Fred provides an interesting quote from a CSXT docket submission indicating that there is widespread “the widespread social disapproval of TIH transport by rail”. I’m not sure that I agree with that claim and would be interested to see some sort of documentation to justify the use of the term ‘widespread social disapproval’. In reading reader comments (not a scientific sampling to be sure) in most of the newspaper articles about last fall’s CAP report show a distinct disdain for the threat posed by TIH chemicals in general. John Q Public’s appreciation of potential threats is uneven at best. Of course, let a real incident happen and people like Fred will be hailed as a voice calling in the wilderness. Chlorine Response Training On my posting about a new chlorine response training program Fred had some disparaging comments about the inadequacy of the training programs that he has observed in the past. He makes a good point that just climbing around a chlorine railcar is totally inadequate. A good training program will discuss hazards and mitigation techniques and a serious discussion of how to determine when a shelter-in-place order is more appropriate than an evacuation order. Fred’s tongue-in-cheek comments about “really good tennis shoes and long-race running expertise” really does make light of a serious problem. First responders have a hard and dangerous job responding to hazmat incidents. There is no way that they can be adequately trained on how to deal with the thousands of different hazardous chemicals that they might run into on their next call. There is no excuse, however, for failing to provide in depth training on extremely hazardous chemicals like chlorine or anhydrous ammonia if it is routinely stored or transits their jurisdiction. The training program that I discussed in this blog looked like it might be an effective part of such training, but I have not actually reviewed the material. If anyone has actually seen this program, please contact me (pjcoyle@aol.com). Reverse 911 Fred’s final comment this weekend was on a posting about the new reverse 911 system recently installed in Arizona that allows residents to add their cell or fax number, or even their email address to the reverse 911 system. Fred’s comment was more in the way of a very pertinent question: “Any info on the measured effectiveness of this system, and compared with others?” I have not looked to see if the system provider has any response data for this new system. If they did, I would not put much stock in it unless they tested it in a real world situation and the system is too new for that. The only place that I have heard of such real world testing being done is during an annual emergency response exercise last spring in Hamilton County, TN. As part of their exercise they used their reverse 911 system to send a message about the exercise to area residents and then followed up with a personal phone call to each of the residents to determine how well the message was communicated. I never did see a formal write-up about the results of that study. I suspect that an ‘enhanced’ reverse 911 system like this will only be as successful as the advertising effort that goes into getting people to sign up for the messages. The more people that sign up, the more effective it should be in a real emergency in contacting affected personnel. The technical aspects should be relatively easy to solve. The people-ware is the more challenging aspect. The biggest challenge will be the preparation of the actual emergency message that goes out over the system as the clock is ticking. Pre-prepared messages for expected emergencies would be a good idea (an anhydrous ammonia leak at the local meet packing plant for example), but the unexpected emergencies with the clock ticking will be a particular challenge for writing coherent emergency instructions. Keep the Cards and Letters Coming As always, I really do appreciate reader feed back on this blog. It helps keep me honest and makes me think. Comments, questions and suggestions for blog topics are always accepted. I do reserve the right (and responsibility) to remove objectionable material from the comments, but I spent 15 years in the Infantry so I have a pretty broad viewpoint on objectionable.

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