CBRN / HazMat Training Blog

A guide to the four levels of Hazardous Materials (HazMat) response

Written by Bryan W Sommers - SGM U.S. Army, Ret. on 30-Jul-2020 13:00:00

hands-on-HazMat-trainingHazardous materials that are mishandled, incorrectly transported or used with malicious intent, can pose a substantial risk to human health and the environment.

How effectively hazardous materials (HazMat) incidents are managed and resolved hinges on the knowledge, training and skill of those charged with response.

In this blog we examine the roles and responsibilities of the four HazMat response levels and we discuss how simulator detector technology can be used to enhance HazMat training outcomes.

Awareness Level

For responders working in awareness level roles, the chance of encountering the presence of a hazardous material in the course of their normal daily duties is relatively small.

In many cases though, it is awareness level personnel who will be "first on the scene" of a HazMat incident - and it is they who will be responsible for taking charge of the initial protective actions (isolating or evacuating the area, calling for specialist assistance etc) that will minimize the impact on people and the environment.

Among the expected competencies of an awareness level responder are:

  • Having an understanding of what hazardous materials are and of the situations and locations in which they are most likely to be present
  • Being able to recognize markings, placards or labels that indicate the presence of hazardous materials
  • Familiarization with the documentation / resources used to identify hazardous materials (such as the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) or its equivalent)

Operations Level

Responders working at the operations level play a hands-on and defensive role in initial HazMat response.

It is expected however that they will do as much as is possible to mitigate the incident without having to set foot inside the Hot Zone.

The mission-specific responsibilities of operations level responders include:

  • Assisting in controlling and minimizing the spread of the HazMat release
  • Knowledge of defensive HazMat techniques such as absorption, damming, diverting, vapor dispersion and suppression
  • Experience in basic air monitoring
  • Skill in technical and mass decontamination
  • Assisting with evacuation and victim rescue
  • Establishing hazard zones
  • Preserving evidence

Technician Level

Responders operating at technician level are highly specialized HazMat personnel who take an offensive-action role when responding to known or suspected releases of hazardous materials.

While HazMat technicians may not be expected to be experts in science, it is assumed that they will have a robust understanding of chemistry, biology and/or nuclear physics. Many also have a substantial CBRN training background.

A HazMat Technician's primary responsibilities include:

  • The performing of advanced risk-based hazard assessments in order to analyze the scope of HazMat incidents
  • Experience in the selection and operation of advanced detection, monitoring and testing equipment
  • The ability to select and use specialized Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Selection of decontamination procedures and control equipment

Depending on their level of training and the scope of the incident, HazMat Technicians may also be required to respond to incidents involving flammable gases or flammable liquids and/or to have knowledge of radiological dosimetry and recording procedures.

Specialist Level

The Specialist responder is the highest level of responder for HazMat incidents, with an in-depth and highly advanced level of scientific knowledge.

Often they may be expected to act in a trouble-shooting capacity by observing Technicians and watching out for potential complications. At other times they may take a more hands-on approach, working alongside HazMat Technicians within the Hot Zone.

Specialist level responders may also be expected to work with the Incident Commander (IC) from within a command post.

Fulfilling the real-world demands of a responder's day-to-day role relies on a robust HazMat training program that is relevant to their work and tailored to their specific duties and tasks.

What is also important is that personnel are provided with the opportunity to demonstrate their HazMat knowledge in both a classroom setting and in real-life environments.

The provision of realistic and engaging hands-on training can help to ensure that responders are equipped for the challenges of live HazMat incidents.

Integrating simulator detector equipment into training scenarios can also enable trainees to experience hands-on training that is rigorous, compelling and repeatable, but where there is no risk to health and safety or the environment.

If you are interested to explore how the use of simulator detectors can enhance your HazMat training outcomes then please get in touch with one of our experts today.

New Call-to-action

Topics: Hazmat Training

Bryan W Sommers - SGM U.S. Army, Ret.

Written by Bryan W Sommers - SGM U.S. Army, Ret.

Sergeant Major Bryan W Sommers has forged a distinguished career in the fields of CBRNe and HazMat training. He recently retired after twenty-two years service in the US Army, with fourteen years spent operating specifically in Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) environments. In 2020 he was appointed as Argon Electronics' North American business development manager.