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Finding a Better View
Video System Gives Shell Command Vehicle 2nd Sight

An incident commander directing emergency operations at an 1,800-acre petrochemical complex can always use an extra set of eyes. The command vehicle specially designed for use at Shell Chemical's Deer Park, TX., facility provides three extra sets.

The first extra set is a television camera mounted on a 36-foot extendable mast that rises above a converted Blue Bird bus that serves as the command vehicle. A second set of electronic eyes is mounted on a 100-foot aerial platform and can be operated by remote control. The third set is a hand-held camera carried by an emergency responder assigned for that purpose.

"It gives the incident commander a view of the fire scene from multiple directions when he is confined to the command post," said Jim Crate, communications supervisor at the Deer Park plant. "The benefits are that he stays put, he stays in touch and it cuts down on the amount of communications needed between the incident commander and the division officers. The incident commander doesn't have to have detailed explanations via radio about a particular thing when he can generally see it from several different angles."

Shell's sophisticated television system is what makes this command vehicle unique from any other in the Houston area. Together with the command vehicle's radios, computer, telephones, fax machine, diesel generators, and weather station, the television system puts a wealth of information at the incident commander's disposal. As a result, this command vehicle is on call for any emergency by fellow members of the Houston-area Channel Industry Mutual Aid organization. It averages an emergency run once every three weeks.

The search for the perfect command vehicle for Deer Park traces back to 1990 when Ed Hawthorne became safety manager of what is Shell's largest petrochemical complex in the United States. Before then, incident command was handled on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

"We'd use a Blazer or pickup truck, whatever we were in," said W.M. Boaze, emergency response coordinator for Shell's Deer Park response action team. "Basically, we had a radio and worked the scene from there. We had very little communications capability and no resources for planning and running a major scene. When Hawthorne came to Deer Park, he recognized the need for a command vehicle to properly run a scene and have the resources on hand to do it."

Crate said that as the problems related to industrial emergencies grow more and more complicated, an incident commander needs more logistical and technical help to cope.

"It's the same in the private and public sector," Crate said. "As buildings get bigger, they have more people. More people require more handling. You have larger hazards. You have larger exposures. Things can very quickly spread beyond the scope for the command of just one person. You now have unified command situations requiring large amounts of information and resources. How do you support that? Your divisional commanders need to know how many people they are looking for, the types of hazards they may face and what they going to need in the way of special support."insidebus.jpg (18113 bytes)

Battling a major industrial emergency has its logistical issues, too. Somebody has to find refreshments for the emergency responders and plan for their meals on the scene. Where do those people work from? asks Crate.

"Most of the time they are out there in the street," Crate said. "So a command vehicle gives everyone a place to work where they can spread out their maps, diagrams and lists. It enables the incident commander to set the priorities and get the people to work on solving the problems."

As opposed to a fixed command center, a command vehicle can be positioned outside the hazard area ,yet close enough to the emergency scene for direct observation and closer coordination with on-site personnel. Also, a fixed command center cannot be moved if the emergency cuts off access or, worse, envelopes the center itself.

Deer Park's first command vehicle was a GMC motor home. Then, in 1994, a low-mileage 1982 Blue Bird bus previously used by Shell Research became available. The old command vehicle was transferred to the Shell's plant in Belpre, OH., and Deer Park took possession of the 36-foot long Blue Bird chassis powered by a four-cylinder 3208 Caterpillar engine.

"All the work to convert the bus was done in plant, understanding that our plant is like a small city," Boaze said. "We have carpenter shops and craftsmen in the plant. Jim Crate's group does nothing but radio service on our site."

As communications supervisor at Deer Park, Crate is not part of the plant's fire brigade. However, he is responsible for providing technical and logistical support. "Either we get it for them or build it for them," Crate said. Providing the new command vehicle with its special optical capabilities fell to Crate, too.

Each of the three cameras feed a signal back to the command vehicle by a wireless microwave link operating at two gigahertz. The command vehicle is equipped with two television monitors that can be used to study the live feed from the cameras or any live news coverage carried on commercial television. At the same time the live signal is also being relayed to other plant officials in two fixed site EOCs.

"It allows us to keep our emergency operations center and our public relations people apprized of what is going on," Crate said. "They have a real-time color picture of the fire scene and they get the audio portion of the radio traffic."

The remote-controlled color camera mounted on the aerial platform is a Panasonic WV-CL302 with a 10-1 zoom ratio. Mounted atop that camera is a Texas Instruments "Night Sight" thermal imaging camera equipped with an uncooled solid state thermal sensor. Thermal imaging makes invisible heat sources visible, allowing an incident commander to trace the movement of a fire before flames appear. A coax relay in the camera allows the controller to switch from thermal imaging to video and back again.

Both the thermal and video camera are mounted on an American Dynamics AD 1235 remote control pan and tilt device. Both the cameras and the pan and tilt device operate on 12-volt direct current so they can be used on vehicles not equipped with an AC generator. A UHF radio control device operating at 450 megahertz controls the camera and its tilt-and-pan mount. That radio link and the microwave transmitter for the video link are manufactured by Las Vegas-based Wireless Technology.

Boaze said the aerial-mounted camera has been instrumental in unmanned observation of pipeline leaks located above grade in piperacks.

"It allows you the opportunity to identify the line and product prior to sending the haz mat team up in the rack to secure the line.," Boaze said. "It also gives you an added margin of safety, allowing the incident commander to watch the repair taking place as if you were there performing the repair yourself."

The other advantage of Crate's video system is that it allows Shell to document everything that goes on at an emergency scene. If something unexpected happens, chances are that the video system is going to record what firefighters were doing right rather than wrong, Crate said.

Shell's command vehicle also comes equipped with a rear-looking television camera similar to those on airport buses that gives the driver a full 360-degree view from behind the steering wheel. With 30,000 miles on the odometer, the command vehicle has had no fender benders to date.

Another technical marvel that Crate takes special pride in is the telephone system. The command vehicle's bank of 12 cellular telephones is fed by four lines that share a common business switch for incoming and outgoing calls. By using a device normally used to operate fax machines from cellular telephones, the result is that any incoming call can be answered using any of the 12 telephone in the bus.

"What that means is that if somebody calls on line three looking for a guy sitting in a particular position on the bus you don't have to move around and play musical chairs to take the call," Crate said.

The telephones can also be used as an office intercom connecting people in the front and rear of the bus.

"I know there are a number of vehicles in the country that have computers for MSDS (material safety data sheets), fax machines, radios for all the people they interface with," Crate said. "I really don't think we're doing anything different there. But the telephone switch thing is kind of unique. The video set up I'm sure is."

The VHF-UHF radios on board the command vehicle monitor all the emergency channels at Shell and all the other frequencies that routine day-to-day maintenance operations use. The vehicle also contains radios linked with the Channel Industry Mutual Aid organization, neighboring plants with whom Shell has communications agreements, state and local government and environmental agencies.

As for computer equipment, the command vehicle has a 486/100 personal computer with a fax modem. A software package known as EIS integrates the computer and communications system to assist in crisis decision-making. Under the heading of hazard assessment, the package considers many important factors:shellguts.JPG (14175 bytes)

Site characterization: The package provides information about site and building infrastructure.

Facility tracking: The package manages information necessary for regulatory reporting.

Hazard assessment: This program identifies hazardous materials risks.

Risk management: Data on risk management programs and standard operating procedures.

Modeling: State-of-the-art graphic models to track hazardous releases are available through this program.

Material Safety Data Sheets: Data is immediately available on the handling, use, storage and hazards of chemicals and products.

Response Information Data Sheets: This format includes data on more than 4,000 commonly used industrial chemicals.

Reporting: The system generates regulatory reports as required by SARA Title III based on information recorded under other format headings.

Under the heading "emergency response," the EIS software package combines five formats:

Daily Operations: This format maintains an official incident log during the emergency and serves as a legal record of compliance with regulations.

Plans and Procedures: Plans and SOPs (standard operating procedures) can be integrated and evaluated for exercises and training under this format.

Resources: The status and availability of equipment and supplies is maintained under this format. For instance, the Shell Deer Park command vehicle computer has a complete inventory of equipment available from the Channel Industry Mutual Aid organization.

Personnel: Information needed for contacting and assigning support personnel during an emergency according to incident command procedures is tracked by this format.

Emergency Response: This format provides a real-time summary of activities between facilities and the surrounding local government.

The EIS program allows the command vehicle staff to employ cellular phones and other communications links as part of the crisis management system. Data and map graphics can be transmitted to corporate headquarters and other facilities.

"We use this feature to update the city (government) of Deer Park," Crate said.

Powering the entire command vehicle set up are two 7?-kilowatt diesel generators located in the rear of the bus. Aside from the important electronics, the generators power a few creature comforts for the command staff; two refrigerators and four air conditions. The air conditioners become very important during the hot Texas summers.

"Down here, there are times when all four air conditioners are running," Crate said.

The command vehicle is powered up and ready to operate en route to the emergency scene. A two-person crew travels with it. But usually operation does not begin until it arrives since the people who staff it are converging on the emergency scene from other locations.

No work of art is ever finished, merely abandoned. Crate is far from finished with the Shell command vehicle. He is already planning on what the vehicle will need for the future.

"We're always looking at improvements," Crate said. "Probably we're going to be talking about phone lines that would be non-cellular because of the growing incidence of blocking calls due to the large number of users during emergencies."

Shell's Wood River, IL., complex has joined Deer Park and Belpre as using a sophisticated command vehicle for emergency operations.

However, the Deer Park vehicle remains the largest in use by the company. In CIMA, Shell and Dow Chemical, which uses a 34-foot command vehicle that has many of the same capabilities as the Shell vehicle, respond to all CIMA emergencies. These vehicles are linked via spread spectrum radio phone links to enhance coordination and reduce radio and cellular telephone traffic.

"The fact that ours and Dow's command vehicle has been designated to respond to all CIMA's emergencies points out that CIMA recognizes the vehicle's enhanced capabilities," said Boaze.


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