Providing first responders and senior management with access to high quality, realistic and regular HazMat safety training opportunities is crucial in ensuring that they are thoroughly equipped to handle any real-world response, whatever the context.
The vital importance of wide-area HazMat emergency preparedness was brought into sharp focus in two recent toxic chemical incidents on both sides of the Atlantic in August 2017.
On August 31 in the US town of Crosby, Texas, floodwaters caused by tropical storm Harvey led to a power shutdown at a chemical plant, which resulted in a series of small explosions and the release of what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) described as “a hazardous smoke plume.”
A 1.5 mile exclusion zone was placed around the plant, and while evacuation of residents immediately outside the exclusion zone was not mandatory, the Texas commission on environmental quality urged local residents to stay inside, keep windows and doors closed and to limit physical activity.
Meanwhile on the South Coast of the UK, an unidentified chemical plume swept over the seaside area of Beachy Head over the August Bank Holiday weekend, resulting in more than 150 beachgoers requiring hospital treatment for symptoms ranging from streaming eyes and burning throats to vomiting and respiratory problems.
Toxic plumes have the potential to drift significant distances, as was evidenced in January 2013, when a foul-smelling gas cloud that originated in Rouen, France, prompted thousands of calls to the emergency services all across England’s South Coast and as far north as South-East London.
Fortunately these types of wide-area public emergency HazMat incidents are fairly rare. But they do highlight the crucial importance for first response teams and management to have hands-on training to handle unexpected chemical hazard events with speed, confidence and efficiency.