Lessons learned from recent incidents such as the West Fertilizer Company (WFC) explosion and the Tianjin China port explosion reveal the need for more comprehensive pre-incident planning. While the 2015 NFPA 1620 Standard on Pre-incident Planning was updated after the WFC incident, it comes up short on details for how communities gather relevant data on hazards, conduct a risk analysis and inform the local community of the hazards pre-incident, as well as engage in crisis communications.
Shipping commodities by rail is an extremely cost-effective means of transportation compared with trucking. Additionally, shipping commodities by rail has proven to be safer than shipping by truck. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) states that there were 15,289 highway incidents in 2017. Despite the safety and security systems in place, there were still 471 derailments resulting in releases of Hazardous Materials (HazMat) in 2017, according to the BTS.
Each year there are approximately 20,000-30,000 Hazmat incidents from stationary and mobile sources (source: National Response Center database). Many of these incidents involve multi-agency response in collaboration with private industry. Based on over 45 findings from 12 investigations of the Chemical Safety Board, Hazmat preparedness and response continues to be the most needed safety improvement.
The Chemical Safety Board has identified through 14 investigations that community’s, facility’s or emergency responder’s response to chemical incidents have been deficient. They have issued 46 recommendations that cross-sect multiple areas of emergency planning, preparedness and response. After analyzing these incidents across the phases of emergency management, one thing is clear: effective pre-incident planning could have prevented a disaster, mitigated the crisis or improved the response and recovery significantly.
Lessons learned from recent incidents such as the explosion at the Tianjin port in China port, the Daesh attacks on critical infrastructure such as the Zaventem Airport in Brussels, and the Hajj stampede in Mina, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reveal the need for continued professional development among emergency management officials and the need to implement best practices before, during and after incidents. Emergency management involves strategic-level thought leadership with broad perspectives on integrating the right solutions to mitigate and respond to hazards. Unmanned aerial systems, situational awareness tools and sensors are some emerging technologies available but these require a comprehensive implementation plan. Emergency managers responsible for critical infrastructure and mass gatherings must continually improve their strategies and capabilities with these new technologies to protect people, the environment, infrastructure and the reputation of governments and corporations. The world notices when things go wrong, not when incidents are averted.