Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hazmat Fusion Center

There is an interesting article over at about the National Hazmat Fusion Center and their new web site. Actually the article describes the site as a web portal since it serves as a communications link between members and an information source to and from the two sponsoring organizations, the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The press release from the IAFC about the new web portal describes it this way:

“The internet-based portal marks a significant milestone in the broader hazmat community. It closes a historical gap in nationwide, hazmat-information sharing capabilities by providing responders with unprecedented opportunity to both contribute to and access a suite of readily available resources. This free resource serves as a one-stop shop for hazmat-response information, including training packages, reports, incident-based case studies, statistics, trends, alerts, recommendations and peer-to-peer networking.”
Emergency Response Lessons

One of the unique things about this site is that it provides a way for sharing information about emergency response lessons learned from actual incidents. It utilizes two different information collection tools. First, members, organizations and individuals, can submit reports about incidents that they have responded to; describing new or unusual situations and sharing information that did, or did not, work. Before such reports are posted on line, they are stripped of identifying information, so that they really are learning tools.

Another way that real-life emergency response lessons are collected is through the use of the Regional Incident Survey Teams (RIST). These teams are made up of volunteers that are dispatched to look at actual incidents upon request of the local emergency response agency. The team members are experienced first responders with additional training on investigating, analyzing and reporting about hazmat response incidents. The RIST reports are prepared in two versions, the publicly available summaries, and the more detailed reports that are available only to members.

I first wrote about this fusion center in 2008 when they were forming the RIST. Looking at a few of the RIST summaries, it looks like these teams are providing a valuable service. This portal will make that service even more valuable since it will provide a way for more people in the emergency response community to find out about the service.

Other Information Available

The site also serves as a clearing house for other information of interest to the emergency response community. Located on the Home page today are links to a new Hydrochloric Acid Release training program, information on Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HEMP) grants, and an information bulletin on responding to chemically assisted suicides.

DHS Support Needed

Right now it looks like the only federal agency providing active support for this fusion center is PHMSA. This is a hazmat fusion center for emergency responders, a hazmat safety activity if there ever was one, so the PHMSA involvement is certainly central to that mission. Since the IAFC is involved, I would assume that there are at least informal links to the US Fire Administration and to the FEMA grants folks.

If the security agencies in DHS that are focused on hazardous material security (CFATS certainly, TSA ground freight, and MTSA) were more focused on the emergency response side of hazmat protection (not their fault, short sighted laws ignored response to attacks in authorizing these programs), then they would have an obvious interest in supporting this fusion center.

Now this is not a ‘Fusion Center’, in the DHS use of the term, it does not spend much time or effort (apparently) looking at intelligence collection and dissemination. It is after all an emergency response fusion center not a law enforcement fusion center. Never the less, the DHS intelligence folks are missing a very important potential asset if they don’t look at providing some intel support to this fusion center. Passing terrorist intent and capabilities information to this group could go a long way towards saving lives in the event of an attack. And setting up a reporting mechanism for emergency responders could provide a valuable source of information to the intelligence community.

Finally, the chemical community (producers, users and shippers) have a very large and clear self-interest motive in supporting this organization. I’m sure that they could use some financial support, but more importantly they need to be able to call on the technical expertise of the chemical industry. Establishment of links with groups like ACC, SOCMA, NPRA and the like would be beneficial to both the emergency response community and the chemical community they support.

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