Home Emergency Management News EDM Wednesday Briefing: PHMSA Ruling Allows Rail Transport for Methane
EDM Wednesday Briefing: PHMSA Ruling Allows Rail Transport for Methane

EDM Wednesday Briefing: PHMSA Ruling Allows Rail Transport for Methane


Emergency and disaster management briefing for September 16, 2020: Hurricane Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm; a new river-cargo ship design could drastically change the movement of commodities on the Mississippi and other large rivers; the NHC is monitoring multiple storms in the tropics and only one name remains unused for this 2020 hurricane season; a NACCHO survey points to an overall loss of public health preparedness and response programs for local health departments; Red Flag Warnings remain in place for much of northeastern California as wildfires scorch more than 3.2 million acres; first responders are encouraged to review hazmat responses after a new ruling by PHMSA for rail cars; Oregon is battling historic wildfires with the help of firefighters from nearly every state in the Union; and a new study notes that critical gaps in interoperability and continuity of communications revealed during training exercises are not addressed in future planning and exercises.

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1) As Hurricane Sally crept northward, its slow forward speed allowed it to strengthen into a Category 2 storm before it made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama, early Wednesday morning. Top wind speeds were about 105 mph, with higher gusts. Hurricane Sally downed trees and power lines, knocking out power to much of the northern Gulf Coast. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is warning residents of life-threatening storm surge and flooding due to the extremely slow movement of the system, adding that rainfall could last up to two days.

2) Concern over wake damage to shorelines has prevented the use of ships on the Mississippi River, but a new river-cargo ship design could drastically change how commodities are moved up and down the Mississippi and other large rivers. A start-up firm in Miami bought a patented design for a river ship that would alleviate those concerns and set new standards. The new ship would be able to carry up to 2,375 shipping containers, have a low profile, sit at a shallow nine feet deep in the water, burn liquid natural gas, cruise at about 13 mph, and have a minimal wake. The company is eyeing Memphis and Plaquemines Parish as locations for new ship terminals that would accommodate the new river ship and be able to reload the containers onto ocean liners.

3) The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is monitoring the very busy tropics, including the recently upgraded Hurricane Teddy, Hurricane Paulette, Hurricane Sally, and Tropical Storm Vicky, along with Tropical Storm Karina in the Eastern Pacific. There are two other tropical systems, including one off the coast of Africa that is likely to become a tropical depression over the next several days. The other disturbance is sitting in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, with a chance of tropical formation at around 60%. With such an active hurricane season, the 2020 name list could be exhausted. New storms will then receive names from the Greek alphabet.

4) Statistics recently released by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) reveals the profiles of local health departments, including changes — positive or negative — over the last three years. Three key findings in NACCHO's 2019 survey included the reduction of workforce capacity (by 21%), limited resources and reduced levels of service provision. According to the survey, there has been an overall loss of public health preparedness and response programs, due to the chronic loss of funding and budget reductions. This is a concerning trend, especially in light of increasingly complex public health challenges.

5) Red Flag Warnings continue across northeastern California amid gusty winds and low humidity, with 25 major wildfires being fought by more than 16,600 firefighters. Since the wildfire season spiked in mid-August, there have been a total of 25 fatalities. More than 3.2 million acres have been scorched, and over 4,200 structures have been destroyed. Firefighters responded to 33 new starts on September 14, while completing containment on two large wildfires. At the same time, activity increased on several other large blazes.

6) First responders that have rail traffic moving within their jurisdiction need to be aware that a new ruling by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) now allows the transport of "methane, refrigerated liquid," known as liquified natural gas (LNG). The new ruling was effective on August 24, 2020, and specifies enhanced outer tank requirements, along with certain additional operational controls. First responders are encouraged to review hazardous materials response procedures in relation to methane to ensure their communities are prepared. The Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) offers detailed information regarding hazardous materials to assist them in preparing to respond to an incident with LNG and other hazmats, especially during the critical early stages of the response.

7) Nearly every state has sent resources to Oregon as it battles historic wildfires that have scorched over 843,500 acres and killed eight people. There are now 5,600 firefighters working to contain the 29 deadly and destructive blazes that are burning across the state, including the three largest — Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Holiday Farm. The wildfires have also led to ongoing hazardous air quality levels throughout Oregon. Officials are cautioning at-risk individuals to remain indoors, while others are being warned to limit their outdoor activities.

8) Communication is a major key in response to emergencies and disasters, and its effectiveness often determines outcomes. A SAFECOM Nationwide Survey (SNS) found that 26% of public safety organizations do not participate in exercises. Of those that participate, only 8% evaluate and document communications in accordance with the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). However, the survey showed that only 4% use the information gleaned to address the gaps and needs through the adjustment of future planning and exercises. To address these critical gaps in interoperability and continuity of communications, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is holding a webinar, CISA Implementing the NECP Webinars-Lifecycle Planning for Emergency Communications, on September 17, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Exercise Division.


Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.