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Sunday
Aug282011

Enough with Terrorism

     One of the successful elements of a terrorist attack is to terrorize you! So if you become consumed with your teams’ ability to withstand “a terrorist attack”, rather than maintaining your standard operational capabilities you are missing the point.

     The standard assumed approach of a terrorist attack that would involve Haz-Mat Team operations would be through the deployment of industrial chemicals, weaponized agents, nerve agents, biological agents, or radioactive materials. These would be inappropriately released in a populated area. Isn’t this a definition of a hazardous materials release? Any material released in an area not designed to confine the materials hazard that could possibly do harm to human beings or the environment.

     Terrorist {type} agents, no matter how exotic are nothing more than hazardous materials releases. Your team, still has to decide on proper PPE, still has to decide on a decon method, still has to mitigate the emergency, still has to clean-up the material, still has to package it as waste, and still has to find a licensed environmental waste contractor to dispose of it at an appropriate TSD {Treatment, Storage and Disposal} facility. It does not matter if the FBI runs the spill, black ops transport the waste, and NASA ships it to the moon, it still is a hazardous materials spill.

     PPE is a good example of this concept. Originally when certifying bodies became concerned with employee exposure to these new threats, {which are nothing more than discovered materials} they requested ASTM 739 testing done on the presently used suit fabrics. Industry did this and found the suits to be protective and compliant. The case was closed, and the suit pamphlets were updated.

     Just because the wildly excitable news media spends weeks harping on “dangerous weaponized agents”, is no reason to re-organize a hazardous material response system that works. Assuming your system has been functioning successfully for a number of years, is the primary directive NOT to become swept away by the current hysterical “flavor of the day”. Reporting news used to be just that. Today, news media are rewarded with more advertising through increased viewers on an hourly basis. The more sensationalism they can embellish an event with translates into more dollars earned minute by minute. This has evolved the news service into one long “trailer for an action movie” rather than the simple act of delivering the news of the day. I can remember when news casters were respected members of their fields, much different than the current day resemblance to questionable used car salesmen.

     In a real hazardous material emergency one of the important players in the Command structure is the PIO {Public Information Officer}. His role is to inform the public through the media of the hazards involved onsite, the potential for further danger, and most importantly any solution for unprotected citizens to increase their safety during the life of the event. This individual must be informed, confident in front of news media cameras, Senior in his Command capabilities, and be able to speak in a reassuring tone. This example is most often seen during local reports of structure fires that become large enough to attract the news media. Note, that you never see wildly reporting Commanders babbling about the destruction, followed by the nearing end. This is because these PIO’s are professional and care about their craft, they are concerned with safety rather ratings. Hazardous Materials Response Teams must behave in a like manner.

     Whether your team is endangered by a hostile political take-over, or sensationalized hazards, your response must remain intact on the true methods of training and organization that you know work! Newly discovered hazards followed by sensationalized news coverage remains the same. Add them to the list of dangers you already face and continue safely and steady on with successful methods. Remember, it’s not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain!

                                                                                            Haz Mat Mike

 

 

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