Industrial Safety

High technology helps keep the calm in a crisis

Sheila Kennedy says crisis management benefits from a dose of high technology.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

Industrial emergencies can have human and environmental consequences, not to mention upsets to business continuity. From mitigation through recovery, technology can ease the pains of hazardous materials releases, chemical fires, explosions, natural disasters, terrorism and other emergencies.

Risk assessment and planning: The best defense is a good offense. To prevent emergencies from occurring, plants must assess what might go wrong and plan a response to minimize the foreseen consequences. The U.S. EPA’s Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) software suite is useful for planning for and responding to chemical emergencies, while ensuring compliance with the chemical inventory reporting requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

CAMEO’s database lists more than 6,000 chemicals, associated synonyms and trade names, and information about chemical management and critical response. Its MARPLOT mapping application plots the geographic area that can be contaminated by chemical releases. Its ALOHA atmospheric dispersion model predicts the dispersion cloud and the degree of hazard to vulnerable locations, such as schools, hospitals and other hazmat storage facilities. A reactivity prediction worksheet forecasts what hazards could arise if chemicals mix.

CAMEO Chemicals is an online, abbreviated version of CAMEO that includes the searchable chemical database, critical response data sheets and reactivity prediction tool.

Emergency responder systems: The Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER), developed by the United States National Laboratory of Medicine, is a software application that contains information about more than 400 hazardous substances and includes substance identification support, physical and chemical properties, human health information and advice about containment and suppression. The most important information is readily accessible through an intelligent synopsis engine.

WISER v. 3.0 provides radiological support, including radioisotope data and reference materials. It also provides, for the first time, a searchable electronic version of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG). By making the 2008 ERG accessible through laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs), emergency responders gain instant access to the information they need for safe response to hazardous materials incidents. ERG helps emergency responders quickly identify hazardous material classifications, determine the best response, and protect themselves and the general public immediately after an incident. Every crisis planner and manager should have access to information like this.

Community notifications: When a crisis occurs, rapid communication with emergency responders, the community at large and your employees can be a life-or-death matter. Honeywell’s Instant Alert Plus for Industrial Facilities is a two-way emergency notification system. The Web-based communication service can send 100,000 30-second messages within 15 minutes. It generates secure, customized, instant messages to decision-makers via phone, e-mail and pager. It can automatically set up a conference call for first responders and company officials. Employees and neighborhoods requiring immediate help can request it by responding to a simple menu of emergency options.

According to Honeywell, the service is activated by placing a phone call or typing a message on a computer with an Internet connection. A series of distributed, redundant call center networks disseminates the information. Instant Alert Plus can integrate with business continuity systems and GIS mapping systems. Redundant data and call centers ensure maximum service reliability.

Some local governments are taking the lead in implementing community warning systems. Contra Costa County in California implemented a Honeywell-run system following a January 2007 incident in which a computer glitch caused a half-hour delay in notifying houses potentially in the path of toxic fumes released during a refinery fire.

Crisis-management systems: ESS Crisis, an emergency-management system from Environmental Support Solutions, is a full life cycle solution that addresses mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. It provides information, resources and processes for emergency planning, training, exercises and real-time mobilization. It tracks personnel training and certifications, availability and deployment durations. To provide geographic information about the emergency and what lies in its path, the software works with Microsoft's Virtual Earth, ESRI's ArcInfo and other GIS and GPS systems. It can generate automatic notifications and tracks crisis communications and tasks. The system also manages briefings, audits, damage assessments and recovery efforts. ESS Crisis meets the requirements of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS).

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at

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