Home Preparedness The Necessary Steps for Creating a Hazmat Response Unit

The Necessary Steps for Creating a Hazmat Response Unit


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Interstate highways, rail lines and other hazardous cargo routes that traverse populated areas require local jurisdictions to prepare for and respond to a hazardous materials incident. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees the handling of hazardous materials.

OSHA’s regulations and oversight alert incident commanders and government officials to the high risk of transporting hazardous materials. However, this risk can be further reduced through proper planning and response strategies.

Planning and Training Have Direct Benefits when a Hazmat Incident Occurs

Emergency service personnel operate in an environment with many variables. Hazardous material responses require a great deal of planning and training, which results in a direct benefit when an actual hazardous materials event occurs.

Based on the location of the hazardous materials, two kinds of information are available.

First, facility operators are required to submit Tier II forms to the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) and the local fire department if their facility stores hazardous materials. The forms contain an inventory of the hazardous chemicals stored at the facility during the past year.

Note that the information in the Tier II form relates to the previous year, so the current quantity and type of chemicals in storage vary greatly. Tier II reporting may be more difficult, as each company submits independently. All the forms together constitute only aggregate data.

The second source of information on chemicals in the area is the commodity flow study. This study lists area highways, waterways and railways by which hazardous materials are transported. This study is usually commissioned by the LEPC and often in conjunction with neighboring jurisdictions because transportation routes ordinarily extend beyond the area under study.

Depending on how a community structures its commodity flow study, it might include an analysis of the most common, deadliest and unique chemicals.

Using the Information to Make Hazmat Program Decisions

Once all the information is collated, decision makers use it to make critical decisions. The first decision should be determining the level and capabilities of the local response team. A community with few major transportation routes and few major chemical facilities does not need a large response team, unless the community is involved in a regional system located far from other response organizations.

When a community creates a hazardous materials response team, the community must decide on the team’s makeup. The first decision will be how to organize the team. Will the team reside in the fire department? Will the team function as an independent regional team?

There are many options for the overall organization. Each option has benefits and drawbacks.

Much of the team construction is based on two factors:

  • The number and location of qualified personnel
  • The source of funding

Another factor to carefully consider is the standards needed to secure grants. Many Homeland Security grants focus on regional responses that comply with known standards, such as the Target Capabilities List or FEMA’s 508: Typed Resource Definitions.

Several Configuration Options Are Available when Creating a Hazardous Response Team

If a hazardous materials response team is located in a fire department, many of the organizational structures are already in place. Only specialized equipment, policies and training are needed to support the new resource.

If the plan is to take advantage of regional resources, especially personnel, many organizational pieces are needed. A hosting agency must be found, unless a regional council of governments is created to manage the hazmat response team.

The legislation setting up the construction of a hazardous response unit is particularly important when it comes to funding. Due to checks and balances of grants and public funding, private entities cannot receive public funds. The state Emergency Response Commission, the LEPC, the attorney general’s office and local prosecutors can provide needed guidance.

Conducting a Capital and Operating Cost Analysis

Once funds become available, it’s necessary to conduct a capital and operating cost analysis for the hazmat response team. Existing assets that will be part of the new hazmat response team will reduce the initial capital outlay. However, without existing assets, startup costs will be much higher.

One of the biggest costs is for the purchase of a hazmat response vehicle. It might be possible to repurpose an older vehicle to save funds. If not, a new vehicle could cost about $1 million or more.

Then there are the operating costs related to the hazmat response vehicle. These operating costs must also be factored into a budget.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.