Thursday, October 9, 2014

AHMP Emergency Response: Are You Prepared?

The possibility of an oil spill is one of the biggest threats facing HazMat professionals and emergency responders today. Thousands of oil drilling sites are located both on and off the coast of the U.S. Without proper preparation, responders may easily find themselves in an oil-spill situation similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Emergency responders never know what they may find when they arrive at the scene of a spill, but being prepared and knowing the best practices can significantly reduce the amount of damage and lower risk of injury when an incident occurs. To better equip companies and their employees with the training and resources necessary to respond to these situations, the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals’ (AHMP) stages an emergency response scenario (ERS) every year at their annual conference. Among its many benefits, this practice introduces new ideas, demonstrates new products and encourages future discussions on emergency response strategies.

This year’s emergency response scenario staged an oil spill emergency on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, LA. The drill gave participants real-time, hands-on training to handle a spill, something that HazMat professionals and citizens of the Gulf Coast have dealt with first-hand.

The ERS took place during AHMP’s 2014 National Conference in New Orleans, LA, on Aug. 27. Participants, including the City of New Orleans Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Clean Harbors, a local emergency response entity, the Coast Guard and conference attendees, learned how to contain a spill and clean the affected waterway by using standard issued equipment including a spill kit, containment boom and oil skimmers.

“This real-world simulation gives HazMat professionals the same materials they would have on hand, and trains them how to work through this type of crisis with a limited supply of equipment available,” says Cedric Calhoun, executive director of AHMP. In addition to drawing attention to oil-spill hazards, these drills encourage participants to return to basics and analyze their spill prevention, control and countermeasure (SPCC) plans.

“Everyone has a SPCC plan,” says Calhoun, but a plan without practice holds little value. Continuous training can make a difference in the way emergencies are handled. Calhoun identifies six steps for avoiding a Deepwater Horizon type situation:

1) Continuously prepare. Preparation and exercise are imperative. Organizations must practice emergency response scenarios more than once or twice a year to keep responders educated and prepared, says Calhoun. If these practices are only conducted once or twice a year, depending on when the drill is preformed, it may be a full year before an incident occurs, meaning some responders have not worn the required PPE or opened a spill kit in a year, putting these responders at a significant disadvantage.

2) Have sufficient equipment. Both employers and responders must ensure that equipment is fully stocked and readily available. Properties with multiple responding groups in particular must restocked kits after every incident to help the team keep track of their gear.

3) Keep equipment up to date and in one place. All gear should be checked regularly to ensure that everything is up to date and in one location. This helps with equipment tracking and to ensure that nothing is lost, especially if it’s used by different teams.

4) Have enough equipment. Make sure that you have enough equipment to cover a worst-case scenario. If there are 500 gallons of oil in the facility, the spill kit on site should be able to contain at least 500 gallons, says Calhoun.

5) Have proper equipment. In addition to having enough equipment, it is important to have proper equipment for the facility. Calhoun suggests having cabinets stocked with proper equipment to deal any type of chemical or spill on site. “It is important to anticipate the kinds of issues that may arise,” he says. Teams should constantly practicing exercises to ensure that the entire team is prepared for any given situation.

6) Communicate with other responders. Know when to call for backup before a small spill turns into a major incident. It is important to know who the major players are and to create a relationship with them before an incident occurs to avoid any confusion.

“Even if you’re not addressing an incident, it is important to reach out to the local responders (fire, police, city) to create those relationships so that when you call them they have a better idea of who you are and what you know,” Calhoun says. “It makes the actual response and the cleanup and all that run so much more smoothly when everybody knows who everybody else is and what they bring to the table.”

Spills can happen at any time, posing a risk of injury, death and extensive damage to property and the environment. With this in mind, employers should continuously prepare responders, inspect equipment and evaluate emergency action plans and drills.

Click here to learn more about the AHMP annual conference and ERS.