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Clandestine Methamphetamine Drug Lab Scenario

The photograph set for this article is representative of an actual field exercise for training responders that are expected to successfully mitigate a Clandestine Drug Lab. This scenario was devised for our responders at a recent Homeland Security Training Conference. Your Teams’ response may be different, but all teams must follow the following format to efficiently succeed in any type of response.

  1. Responsible staff members must determine the “level of response” your group will offer BEFORE you respond. All Haz-Mat incidents have varying levels of response service. Are you going to rescue victims? Are you going to stop leaks and or releases? Will you do both? Are you going to over-pack damaged containers? Are you going to mitigate the environmental area and impact back to the level of operation before the incident occurred? Inside all of these choices are also many “levels of response” that must be determined before responding begins so that all involved understand what they will get when they call you! This facilitates a smooth response, and that all the needed groups to control an incident are called early.
  2. ID {Identification of the chemicals involved} the products before operations begin. This may very well require a properly suited entry team to ID the products involved. This is all well and fine, just remember until these hazards are discussed among your response group, no mitigation should occur. In some cases VERY simple mitigation operations can be done by the initial entry team sent in for ID, but this must be pre-agreed by all members of your group, and depend on the severity of the hazards involved. This technique is called prioritization.
  3. Prioritization of all hazards before operations begin is paramount for overall safety. Simply put, you must discover which hazards are the most dangerous at the site. The steps for prioritization in this order are: 1] Decide what hazards are the most dangerous to you. 2] Rank them in order of severity and mitigate them in that order, the most dangerous first, the second, one step less hazardous than the first, and so on. 3] Determine which possible mixtures of the “free” hazards involved could become explosive, or more toxic than the first hazard you chose if mixed together. Once this has been decided you can begin to suit up the next volley of responders to handle these hazards in the order you have agreed upon.
  4. Mitigation requires many skills based upon what type of hazard and container you are dealing with. One important operation that often goes undone is that of separation and isolation. First, always remove the intact, uninvolved containers away from the hazard area if they are of a movable size by one or two responders. This simple act will minimize the severity of reaction or explosion if the incident deteriorates while you are in the “Hot-Zone”. This simple operation, when done, has saved many responders lives.
  5. Environmental return to “normal business” refers to the actual site being clean enough for normal workers to return to the site, in their normal work attire. If your Company is Environmental in nature, this may be the largest part of the work performed before you finish the job and “clear the site”. Most response teams of an Emergency nature do not have the training, manpower, or equipment, for an operation of this magnitude. Only Environmental Contractors have heavy moving equipment, transportation licenses, hazardous waste receiving sites, or recycling centers all aligned and ready to handle shipments of hazardous waste. Be advised, that at some point in the incident you will be working with these people, so call them early to your scene.

In this event, we had students follow these rules and implemented a color coding system for environmental monitoring results. This was done to keep the site clean, as the training norm is to never have “live chemicals on site”. By instructing the students during the “Prioritization” section of the exercise, I assigned each hazard found, a color of its container indicating what the monitoring results would be if these chemicals were on our site. This worked well with the separation and isolation aspect of the exercise, as long as they did not rely on the containers labels. Can you see if any mistakes were made?

Haz-Mat Mike

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