December 24, 2007News from the Local Emergency Planning Committee --
New Emergency Response Levels Meet Federal Requirements
Recently during an early December snowfall, listeners to emergency communications scanners heard Oswego County dispatchers report a “Level 4 Hazmat” on Route 481 north of Phoenix. The accident closed the northbound lanes.
Level 4? What's that? Is it a serious emergency?
As news media scrambled to the site, they found that emergency response officials were responding to a tractor-trailer accident on the highway. The icy roads had caused the tractor-trailer to jackknife, blocking the northbound lanes and spilling diesel fuel onto the highway. In accordance with recently revised operating guidelines in the Oswego County Hazardous Incident Response Plan, fire officials on the scene had declared a Level 4 hazmat incident, the least serious for an event involving hazardous materials. State Police closed the northbound lanes while the spill was cleaned up.
What's a Hazardous Incident Response Plan? Did that kind of emergency warrant a Level 1 response declaration a while ago?
The Oswego County Local Emergency Planning Committee put together the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Incident Response Plan in the late 1980s to guide the actions of county agencies in a coordinated response to a chemical or hazardous materials emergency. The plan incorporates the response of the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team, a volunteer entity under the County Fire Coordinator's Office that is trained to handle incidents involving chemicals.
The county plan sets out levels of response so that resources can be marshaled for the incident - a large scale emergency would draw more personnel and equipment than a single car accident, for example.
Until recently, the plan operated with three response levels. Response Level 1 was activated for a small-scale hazardous materials emergency that might involve only the local fire company with advice from the Fire Coordinator or Deputy Fire Coordinator for Special Operations. The CSX train derailment in Central Square during November 2006 was declared a Level 2 response, with the possibility that hazardous chemicals could be released as the damaged tanks were moved. A Level 3 response would draw on all of the resources available, with a threat to human life and potential for severe damage to the environment.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS), a federal standard for managing emergency incidents, changed all that. In 2006, NIMS established common terminology for emergency response agencies so that a Level 2 incident in Oswego County is the same as a Level 2 incident in a county in New Jersey. It establishes consistency so that all emergency response agencies understand what the scope of the emergency is and what resources might be needed.
Under NIMS, five emergency response levels are defined, with Level 5 being the least serious (a single car accident) and Level 1 being the most severe and probably an “Incident of National Significance” - on the order of Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005.
Revised this fall, the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Incident Response Plan has incorporated these response levels:
Response Level 4: the least severe incident involving hazardous materials, such as a fuel spill. A Level 4 response will call out the county fire coordinator, the deputy fire coordinator for special operations, and the county Health Department-Environmental for technical expertise.
Response Level 3: this level means that specialized training and equipment are needed to bring the incident under control. The Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team, a volunteer group of firefighters with specialized training to respond to such incidents, will be called to the scene with all of their equipment. The county Emergency Management Director and Highway Department will also be notified and may be asked to assist.
Response Level 2: the highest level of response to a hazmat scene, which may require outside agencies to assist the county hazmat team. An extended response would be required for the complex incident, which could mean onsite response for several operational periods.
The new response levels are in effect and being used by fire personnel and the Oswego County E-911 Communications Center. Now that the county's response plans are NIMS compliant, the LEPC will be working with the Oswego County Emergency Management Office to provide NIMS training to industry personnel and others who might work with emergency response personnel during an incident. EMO and the County Fire Coordinator's Office have worked with fire companies, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, municipalities, hospitals, and schools to ensure compliance with NIMS regulations.
More information on the Oswego County LEPC and NIMS is available by contacting the county Emergency Management Office at 591-9150.
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