Article Archive
Focus on Hazmat
Knowledge that is for the taking
Vol. 26 Summer

It is an anachronism that "knowledge is power," but to remain powerful in any viable area, one must continually update his knowledge to encompass the continual growth in his field of endeavor. Nowhere is this more true than in the general area of emergency response and the specific field of hazardous materials.

In recent years, numerous sources of information have become available, thanks to the advent of the Internet. Some of these sites are fee based and some limit their membership to certain groups of individuals, i.e. fire chiefs or companies dealing with particular hazardous materials. Other sites, usually those supported by governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Federal Houing Administration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration and others are available free of charge to anyone seeking the information they provide.

The private sector also provides information resources through trade associations such as The Chlorine Institute and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The ACC, formerly known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), is the parent organization of the venerable Chemical Transportation Emergency Center or CHEMTREC which, in turn, encompasses TRANSCAER, (Transportation?@Community?@Awareness and Emergency Response), a voluntary outreach effort in the USA that focuses on assisting communities in preparing for and responding to a possible hazardous material transportation incident. TRANSCAER members consist of volunteer representatives from the chemical manufacturing, transportation, distributor, emergency response industries, and the government.

For decades CHEMTREC and TRANSCAER have served as a sort of "umbrella" for the hazardous materials emergency response community. They have been the means of connecting those in need of assistance to those who can provide it. It has provided hands-on training and functioned as a clearing house for innovative techniques. These activities have tended to focus on the transportation and manufacturing segments of the chemical industry and it continues to serve these needs admirably.

In order to address the needs of a broader segment of emergency responders and local jurisdictions, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) have collaborated to create The National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center, located within IAFC headquarters, 4025 Fair Ridge Drive, Fairfax, VA 22033.

The mission statement of this organization is: "To provide leadership to career and volunteer chiefs, chief fire officers, company officers?@and managers of emergency service organizations throughout the international community through vision, information, education, services and representation to enhance their professionalism and capabilities."

As a first step toward fulfilling this mission statement, the National Fusion Center announced on Oct. 15, 2010, at the "Hotzone 2010" meeting in Houston, TX, the inauguration of the center’s web portal as reported in the following press release:

"Hazardous materials responders at ‘Hotzone 2010’ witnessed today’s launch of the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center’s web portal (Hazmat Fusion Center), a responder-driven data collection, analysis and education center. Representatives from U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) announced the portal’s launch at the conference’s general session."

"Hazmat responders have traditionally looked to each other as a source of learning, but have been largely restricted to local or regional networks," said Chief Jack Parow, IAFC president and chairman of the board and a former member of the Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Team. "The Hazmat Fusion Center will now allow us to learn from hazmat technicians across the country, as well as to apply our knowledge to national-level policy discussion and training models that we can adapt to our local conditions. This not only benefits emergency responders but the public we are sworn to protect."

"PHMSA, in partnership with the IAFC, is committed to improve the safety of every emergency responder, protect the public and infrastructure, enhance the capabilities of the fire service, and increase response effectiveness," said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. "The Hazmat Fusion Center will provide crucial information to decision makers at the federal, state and local levels on the transportation and delivery of hazardous materials.

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.

The portal was designed with a consistent method of information collection to support information sharing across jurisdictions and levels of government and to support both individual and national-level needs. The secure incident reporting system is available for hazmat teams to enter, manage and analyze their own incident reports while allowing the Hazmat Fusion Center to create a national picture of hazmat response and disseminate regional and national hazmat trends and statistics.

"It is very important that those of us in the hazardous materials response community from around the nation are able to share information with each other," said Bill Hand, training coordinator for the Harris County (TX) Fire Marshal’s Office and one of hundreds of responders who contributed to the portal’s development. "The National Hazmat Fusion Center is making that possible by bringing together in one location the resources that we need to access this critical information."

The portal is the central element of the Hazmat Fusion Center. The program — which has adopted the tagline Responders Helping Responders — was created using a bottom-up building process based on the needs and the active input of the hazmat response community.

The Hazmat Fusion Center also includes the established Regional Incident Survey Teams (RIST) and an operations center currently in development. RIST members are local responders in each of the five PHMSA regions who have volunteered to be trained and dispatched after major incidents, at the request of the jurisdiction, to assist in collecting lessons learned and for analysis of the event.

What is the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center and its purpose?

• The Hazmat Fusion Center is a one-stop shop for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information about hazmat emergency response.

• The Hazmat Fusion Center ties together the hazmat training network, analysis of significant hazmat incidents, exploration of hazmat technologies, and continued development of hazmat tools and resources.

• The Hazmat Fusion Center offers a national communications network for hazmat responders to share information in the areas of responder safety, training and lessons learned.

• The focus of The Hazmat Fusion Center is on the safety of the?@emergency responder?@at hazmat incidents.

• The Hazmat Fusion Center has been built from the bottom-up to reflect the needs of hazmat responders.?@?@

What are the benefits of the Hazmat Fusion Center?

• A database that incorporates hazmat teams nationwide so they may communicate with each other more effectively.

• Knowledge about hazmat incidents nationally.

• Lessons learned shared nationally?@without?@criticism or condemnation.

• Smart and effective practices for hazardous materials response.

• A basis for realistic approaches to training.

• Regional Incident Survey Teams?@(RIST).

• Effective and responsive communication tool(s) for the hazmat community.

• Critical information that can save lives.

Where is the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center located?

• International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) headquarters, 4025 Fair Ridge Drive, Fairfax, VA 22033.

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