Thursday, July 1, 2010

The National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by CDR Rick Raksnis, former Chief, U.S. Coast Guard Hazardous Materials Standards Division, and Mrs. Tonya Schreiber, Executive Director, Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation.

Imagine you are the mayor of a small Midwest town. You receive word from your fire chief that a train has derailed in your town of 5,000. Several tank rail cars of chlorine gas are laying on their sides. Gas is venting from them and a vapor cloud is moving toward the center of town.

The fire chief has plenty of first responders on scene but is unable to repair the leaking chlorine rail cars because he is unsure how to proceed in this hazardous environment. What can you do? What resources do you have available to help respond to and mitigate this situation?

One resource is the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center. With its secure, Web-based portal, the fire chief has instant access to a wide range of information to quickly locate the nearest hazardous materials team in the area or list of equipment and personnel protective gear needed to respond safely. Essentially, the fire chief has a vast network of professional support on a laptop.

A Fusion Center Is Born
The fusion center concept is the result of a cooperative effort between the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the Department of Transportation Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Through their strong partnership, as well as support from other federal, state, and local agencies and groups, the hazardous materials fusion center has been built to serve the first responder community. The center is located at IAFC headquarters in Fairfax, Va., and its staff manages daily operations.

Organizers determined that the fusion center could best meet the needs of the first response community through a three-tiered approach: information collection, data analysis, and disseminating best practices.

Step One: Collect Information
The fusion center serves as the repository for hazardous materials incident information collected from actual response cases. Regional incident survey teams collect information on how well the first responders performed to develop response techniques, lessons learned, and best practices.

In addition to hosting this collection of response data, the fusion center will also maintain information on the nation’s network of trained hazardous material teams, including location, contact information, capabilities, and equipment. This type of information will be very valuable, especially for those jurisdictions without a trained hazardous materials response team.

Second Step: Analyze Information
The hazardous materials fusion center will receive incident reports from the regional incident survey teams and create response-specific after-action reports summarizing the effective practices, planning tools, and resources that were observed to work well during the response. Part of the analysis may include recommended training. In addition, the fusion center will look for trends and patterns to prevent and mitigate hazardous material incidents.

Third Step: Share the Results
The principal point is to create a national database for the free flow of information among hazardous materials teams and interested stakeholders. This includes sharing after-action reports, curriculum materials, training drill exercises, noteworthy hazardous materials conferences, and hazardous material shipping information. This information will be available to hazardous materials response teams and national and international decision makers, who are responsible to establish criteria for the safe shipment of these materials.

For more information about the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center, visit and under the title “What’s Hot,” click on the “Hazmat Fusion Center and RISTs” link.

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