Protecting Our Armed Forces Critical Infrastructure: Prioritize Patriot

March 14th, 2014

Author:  Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, US Army (Ret.), IEM Vice President of Response and Defense

Reprinted from The Hill

patriotJust 50 years ago, theater missile defenses arrayed our nation’s capital.  Since then, we were able to close down the homeland Nike Hercules sites. And for the past 13 years, we have dealt with specific 9-11 type threats by way of air and ground based alert interceptor aircraft and selected deployment of limited short-range air defense capabilities based upon specific threat assessments.

But as the Department of Defense designs our Armed Forces for the future, the joint force capabilities must continue to be responsive to our Combatant Commanders’ requirements.  That being said, today – and in the foreseeable future – combatant commanders must consider the threat from aircraft and ballistic missiles. This includes the imperative of protection that can only be provided by Patriot, THAAD, and the SM-3. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

December 10th, 2013

Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist, IEMemergency022

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Oil Train Disaster: Are You Prepared if it Happens in Your Town?

November 12th, 2013

Last week a 60-car crude oil train derailed and caught fire in Western Alabama. To many, the derailment and subsequent conflagration of a 60-car crude oil unit train in rural Alabama may be somewhat of a surprise. After all, Alabama is a long way from North Dakota, the origin of the crude oil transported by rail. However, this is a reminder that this type of incident can occur almost anywhere in the United States and Canada that is connected by North America’s extensive rail network.

Smoke rises from a number of cars that derailed and exploded from a train carrying crude oil in Aliceville

Photo credit: Reuters/WBMA

The rapid expansion of crude oil shipments by rail in North America is the direct result of more domestic sources of crude oil. U.S. Class I railroads originated 93,312 carloads of crude oil in the third quarter of 2013, up 44.3 percent over the 64,658 carloads originated in the third quarter of 2012. Since U.S. pipeline projects are currently stalled, this trend of transporting crude by rail is expected to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

Emergency Specialist Reflects On Life’s Work During Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Podcast)

August 26th, 2013
Madhu Beriwal cutting Ribbon at IEM Opening Ceremony

Madhu Beriwal (on right cutting the ribbon) when headquarters were moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

By Nicole Campbell and Frank Stasio
Reprinted from http://wunc.org/programs/state-things

listen to podcast Listen (47:24)

Host Frank Stasio talks with Beriwal about her life and research in emergency management.

In 1985, Madhu Beriwal was conducting hurricane research for the state of Louisiana. She charted possible directions and outcomes that different storm conditions would bring to New Orleans. Looking at [a hurricane atlas she developed]  in 2005, Beriwal said it almost perfectly predicted the severity of Hurricane Katrina.

Today Beriwal heads IEM, a private emergency response company that focuses on homeland security, natural disasters and evacuation support. The State of Things host, Frank Stasio, talks with Madhu Beriwal about her life and research in emergency management.

listen to podcast  Listen to the podcast. (47:24)

Quebec Oil Train Disaster – It Could Happen in Your Town

July 10th, 2013

The train explosion involving a 73-car crude oil unit train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6 serves as a sobering example of what can happen in your town.Quebec-train-wreck

The train’s oil was being transported from the Bakken Oil Region in North Dakota to New Brunswick to be refined. The incident occurred just 10 miles from the Maine border.

Rail shipments of crude oil are on the increase because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada. Unit trains carrying crude oil are traversing urban areas across the United States and Canada because our cities were connected years ago by railroads. In some cases, unit trains are blocking off entire portions of some urban areas because they can only unload so many cars at a time. Read the rest of this entry »

India Floods in Uttarakhand-Natural or Man-Made?

July 9th, 2013

Author: Jackie Covington, Emergency Management Associate, IEM

Many people are overwhelmed when such an extreme disaster like the June 2013 flooding in Uttarakhand, India happens. The scale of destruction is huge and thousands remain stranded in parts of northern India as they wait to be rescued from Uttarakhand where at least 5,000 people may have died due to the heavier than normal June monsoon rains. At least 12,000 people have been evacuated. The priority right now is for the continuation of rescue efforts. The devastation is the result of extreme heavy rainfall and landslides. Could this be the disaster that was waiting to happen? Many questions are being asked and remain to be answered, such as was there adequate response and evacuation planning? What if anything was done in advance to mitigate against such flooding and destruction of this magnitude?

Uttarakhand-India-Flood Read the rest of this entry »

Tornado Tracks from Moore & El Reno, Oklahoma Show an Eerie Correlation with Heavily Populated Areas

June 20th, 2013

Author: Bill Proger, Java Developer, IEM

On May 31, the area around Oklahoma City, already battered by tornadoes a little over a week before, experienced several more tornadoes that caused damage including loss of life.  A tornado reaching an EF-3 (Severe) wind speed and damage rating touched down just southwest of the city of El Reno, approximately 30 miles west of Oklahoma City.  It moved east and ended at the Interstate 40 corridor.  On May 20, a tornado reaching the maximum EF-5 rating devastated a large area immediately south of Oklahoma City. It touched down near the city of Newcastle, cut through Moore, and ended approximately two miles west of Stanley Draper Lake.

The interactive tornado map above, powered by OpenLayers and using an OpenStreetMap layer, shows the May 20 and May 31 approximate tornado tracks, as well as tracks of other tornadoes that have occurred in this area since 1999 and reached a Severe or higher wind speed and damage designation. Their tracks are approximated with straight lines between their starting and ending locations.

It is apparent from the map’s pattern of streets and building footprints at higher zoom levels that many tornadoes produce tracks that impact lives and infrastructure in urbanized, heavily populated areas. As an example, zoom in on the May 20, 2013 track just west of Interstate 35.  Panning west in the storm track’s reverse direction, we see the intersection of the track with Plaza Towers Elementary School, on which the most closely followed rescue effort was focused, and with Briarwood Elementary School a little to the southwest.  Near the school, the track intersects the footprints of other mass gathering places, including a movie theater next to the interstate, and many individual homes.  Looking at the May 31 track, the reader can see its convergence with Interstate 40, a major highway serving Oklahoma City.

As focused as many tornadoes often are in their damage paths, a tornado moving through a heavily populated urban area can have a devastating cumulative effect even with a relatively short track. Current discussions about increasing public safety during tornadoes are very timely.

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Raises Questions About Planning and Zoning

April 19th, 2013

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

The explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, this week serves as a sobering reminder of the role of planning and zoning for facilities near chemical plants. Why were a middle school and a nursing home located so close to a fertilizer plant that stores and uses dangerous chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia?

West Texas Fertilizer plant - buildings near explosion

Source: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/17/17800341-texas-town-a-disaster-blast-may-have-killed-15-injured-160?lite

Planning and zoning officials often do not have critical information such as downwind hazard zones or isolation protective action distances during the planning board process. As a result, schools, nursing homes, residential subdivisions, and child care facilities are often built too close to chemical facilities with downwind hazard zones or too close to highways and railroads transporting chemicals with known recommended isolation protective action distances.

IEM is working with local officials and industries in several states to gather real data about hazardous materials storage and transport and to translate that into actionable intelligence that helps planning officials make more informed zoning and facility siting decisions. This process is also building stronger bonds between industry, communities, and local officials as they collaborate more closely to improve public protection.

For details about the explosion, see Explosion hits fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas.

 

 

NC Rail Hazmat Incident Could Have Been in Your Backyard

February 5th, 2013
Overturned rail tanks cars in Bladensboro, NC, some of which contained hazardous materials.

Overturned rail tanks cars in Bladensboro, NC, some of which contained hazardous materials.

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

It is still not known why nine rail cars in a 109-car train derailed from the CSX tracks in downtown Bladensboro, NC on this past weekend. Four of the derailed cars were listed as containing hazardous materials, and one of them was full of anhydrous ammonia (NH3), a toxic inhalation hazard.[1] This dense gas, when released, is heavier than air, and can seep into the ground. Emergency responders evacuated 300 people to an elementary school shelter.

We modeled this incident using data from that day’s weather and determined that 518 people lived in the “red zone” (see map below) downwind of the incident and could have potentially been impacted if that rail tank car of NH3 was compromised.

Plume model illustrates “red zone” and downwind areas to be evacuated if necessary.

Plume model illustrates “red zone” and downwind areas to be evacuated if necessary.

Late last year we described another hazmat rail incident in Paulsboro, NJ involving vinyl chloride spilling into a tributary of the Delaware River (NJ Train Derailment Begs Us to Ask: Do You Know What Is Transported Through Your Back Yard?). These incidents serve as an important reminder to emergency managers to learn what is being transported “through their backyard” and to work with freight railroads to learn about the challenges surrounding hazmat rail incidents.  Since railroads connect urban areas across the county, hazmat rail incidents can affect populated areas. Often railroad incidents occur in remote areas or areas not served by highways and pose unique challenges for the response and clean up.

North Carolina ranks third in the nation for chemical production.[2]  Anhydrous ammonia is one of the top hazardous chemicals transported in North Carolina, used primarily in the production of fertilizers.[3]

IEM helps emergency managers identify the most hazardous chemicals stored in, or transported to, their counties to be prepared in the event of one of these low-probability/high consequence incidents.

Sources

http://triangle.news14.com/content/top_stories/685664/small-police-force-responds-to-big-emergency-at-bladenboro-trail-derailment
http://fayobserver.com/articles/2013/02/04/1234825?sac=fo.community/bladen


[1] Fayetteville Observer, Feb 3, 2013.
[2] American Chemistry Council, 2012.
[3] North Carolina Regional Hazardous Materials Study Series, NCEM 2009-2013.

Paulsboro Train Derailment Begs Us to Ask: Do You Know What Is Transported Through Your Back Yard?

December 3rd, 2012

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager

Last Friday’s freight train derailment in New Jersey in which several rail tank cars of vinyl chloride ended up in a creek off the Delaware River serves as a sobering reminder to emergency managers throughout the United States: do you know what is transported through your back yard? If so, do you have a plan for responding?

Fortunately, only one rail car of vinyl chloride was ruptured, a tribute to the strength of rail tank cars. At 353,000 lbs fully loaded, a rail tank car is difficult to move, even with the right equipment. However, an incident involving vinyl chloride (VCM), a highly flammable toxic inhalation hazard, contains multiple hazards that are worth reviewing. This incident should serve as a learning experience for emergency managers and first responders.

First, in an incident involving a chemical like VCM, it is important to step back and assess the situation. While VCM is highly flammable, water can increase the formation of gas. The recommended media is alcohol resistant firefighting foam (AR-AFFF). The foam knocks down the flammable and toxic gas and slows down the vaporization.

Second, aging infrastructure is clearly a factor in this incident. There are 18 railroad systems in New Jersey operating over 983 miles of track. While freight rail operators are constantly improving their systems, they cannot always keep up with the maintenance of tracks, trestles and bridges. This bridge was constructed in 1874. Like many railroad bridges in this country, they need attention.

Finally, environmental concerns in this event are not significant as VCM is not a persistent material in the environment and it does not bio-accumulate.  VCM has an environmental half-life of 23 hours in soil and water.  In air it rapidly degrades with sunlight and disperses into the atmosphere.

This incident underscores the importance of knowing what’s going through your back yard, preplanning so you know how to deal with such incidents, making good assessments and developing mitigation and response plans.