San Diego first responders last year participated in an emergency response scenario exercise.

Training for Disasters

To better manage the inevitable chaos that occurs after a disaster – whether it results from natural or human causes – people need to know what to expect. That is what the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals (AHMP) tries to do every year through its Emergency Response Scenario.

The planned 2010 scenario in Atlanta, Ga., included personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Emergency Operations who were to explain how the federal agency responds to disasters and how it would respond under the National Response Plan to a major airport event. Coordinators designed the simulation as a "white powder event" in which an unknown white powder material disburses throughout an airplane cabin just after the plane lands but before it reaches the gate.

Once the plane "lands," the scenario would show how first responders address this type of situation. Raymond C. Davis, CHMM, chair of the AHMP professional development committee, explained that the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies use lessons learned from 9/11.

"After a plane is diverted to a secure area, [emergency responders] have to move people and begin the decontamination process," he said. Employees from Clean Harbors Environmental Services were scheduled to provide support to the simulation by suiting up and sampling the white powder using the proper protocol.

Although investigators would immediately see and sample the white powder to determine its threat, they also would conduct testing for other chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives (CBRNE) using the latest technology to sample, detect, identify, and mitigate any unknown problems.

Davis noted that if the plane had still been in the air when the white powder was dispersed, it would have been routed to Robins Air Force Base or the nearest military installation and kept in a secure hangar for at least a week for thorough testing.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this year's emergency response scenario was canceled at the last minute.

San Diego first responders last year participated in an emergency response scenario exercise.

San Diego first responders participated in last year's AHMP emergency response exercise.

In 2009, AHMP's planning committee took advantage of its San Diego conference location to stage a scenario on the USS Midway. The city's Fire Department Special Operations bomb and hazmat response units diffused an improvised explosive device and disabled the hazard potential of a chlorine cylinder.

Elise Allen-Frankenfield, CHMM, is the AHMP secretary. She went to last year's emergency response scenario, where county responders used a robot to determine the bomb hazard and were outfitted in Level A suits to close the leaking cylinder valve, which was somewhat of a challenge during the Indian summer.

"[They] work as a countywide group in collaboration and with communication that works," Frankenfield said, adding that the first responders already had in place a hierarchy for who's in charge, roles and responsibilities of each team including who is bringing what tool, and a command structure.

Although Frankenfield said she doesn't work in an emergency capacity, she realized the value of the teamwork concept and even thought about what provisions her family should be making. Frankenfield is a project engineer at URS EG&G Division.

Davis, who is president and CEO of RL Enterprizes Inc., has helped plan emergency response scenarios over the last five years that involved chemical spills, weapons of mass destruction, biological incidents, and a bridge collapse.

Now that this year's annual conference is over, the national conference committee will begin immediately working on next year's disaster scenario.

About the Author

L.K. Williams is the Environmental Group Editor of 1105 Media.