Spill Response: Utilizing Local Resources

There are a number of caveats to consider before creating plans that revolve solely around renting items as needed.

TANK overfills. Forklift punctures. Floods. Earthquakes. Willful destruction. Spill response planners are tasked with creating plans for any possible spill incident that could occur at a facility. Often, however, the “best” or “ideal” plan to handle a situation is scrapped because of budgetary, manpower, or space constraints.

Sometimes, less-than-perfect plans are developed because plan coordinators aren’t aware of the wealth of resources available in their communities. Acknowledging that the facilities may not need to purchase or store all of the items they could ever possibly need is an important first step toward achieving a more ideal spill response plan.

Consider an ‘Ideal’ Plan
After determining all of the scenarios that could face the facility, imagine for a moment that budgets are no object, and that a plan can contain any and all equipment or personnel that would ever realistically be needed.

Instead of saying, “Gosh, it would be nice it we could . . .” or “Man, it would be great if we had . . . ,” pencil it into the plan if it is a reasonable and realistic resource. Filling a plan with items that don’t currently exist or would be frivolous or overkill sets unrealistic expectations and diverts the efforts of obtaining items that will be truly beneficial.

Realistic resources might include things such as backhoes, generators, pump trucks, portable tanks or containment, flammables vacuums, decontamination tents, incident command equipment, large stores of absorbents, personal protective equipment, air monitoring tools, remediation equipment, and calling in additional responders.

Include anyone who will be responding to, or has responded to spills in the facility during this discussion. Many of them have experience responding to previous spills and can add valuable insight as to what they would like to have on hand or would be comfortable using in the future.

Make a Wish List
Review the new “desired” plans, listing all of the resources. As each resource is listed, determine whether it is already on site (for example, spill kits), whether it is something that can be purchased, stored, and maintained on site (for example, a specialized vacuum or decon tent), or is something that is not practical to store, there is not currently space to store or no budget to obtain (for example, backhoes or aid from outside resources).

For facilities that have had plans in place for a while and have been diligent in maintaining their response equipment and supplies, many items may already fit the first category, with only a few items on the actual “wish list” of resources that can’t be stored on site or are too expensive to obtain.

Creating a list of resources has the added benefit of also serving as a checklist for future inspections, plan reviews, or restocking after an incident.

Obtain Resources
Resources can be obtained from a number of different entities. One place to get started is the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Office or Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). These entities are often based in a single county, although they can be city-run for larger cities or multiple-county in rural areas.

No matter what the governing authority is, though, its personnel should be able to refer you to companies or organizations in the local community that can help with response resources.

Local Hazmat Teams
Hazmat response teams are often found at the county level. In small to mid-sized communities, it is not uncommon for firefighters and other first responders to be cross-trained to handle hazmat incidents that are likely to occur in their county. Because of the nature and scale of responses they are prepared to handle, they often have “big ticket items” such as pump trucks, mass decon supplies, air monitoring equipment, incident command equipment, and large quantities of absorbents and PPE.

Although it is impractical to call them for every little spill, they can be a great resource for catastrophic spills, especially when the spill is facility-specific and not related to a community-wide natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake. Many county teams areeager to be involved in facility response plans. Incorporating them into those plans and allowing them to drill with on-site responders has a mutual benefit.

The outside teams become familiar with the facility, which benefits them if there is ever an actual emergency for which their assistance would be called. It also helps them become more comfortable in other facilities with similar processes. On-site responders benefit from the knowledge of the outside teams. Outside teams are often more aware of new technologies and maintenance techniques for existing supplies. They may also play a role in allowing for more responders per entry team, to speed response efforts.

Utilizing outside response teams for larger incidents and drills also allows both on-site and outside responders to practice incident command structure. Although this is not of the utmost importance in small incidents, it becomes absolutely vital in a large-scale spill response. As all responders become more familiar with one another and their roles in the response, they are better able to function within the structure, allowing the overall operation to run more smoothly.

If an agreement is made to use outside responders as part of the plan, it is important to keep contact information up-to-date and equally important to continue including the outside responders in drills or changes made to response plans. This enables the outside responders to provide the best aid possible in an actual spill response situation.

Non-profit Organizations
If spill response scenarios involve evacuating or treating large numbers of victims, utilizing community outreach organizations such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army may be extremely beneficial. In addition to providing training seminars, these organizations are skilled in handling, treating, and otherwise caring for the needs of large numbers of people. They are well versed in calling in the additional resources they need to support their operations and know how to work within an incident command structure.

As with outside response teams, it is not practical to call them for small incidents, and they may not be available to specifically help a single facility in a community-wide disaster. If the facility is able to include them as a resource for large facility-specific incidents, however, it can ease the burden on the facility to train an on-site team to handle these issues and to stock all of the potentially necessary supplies that would be needed to support numerous victims with varying needs.

Local Companies
Earth-moving equipment, generators, tents, and other supplies usually are “readily available” in most communities, and renting an item “as needed” can be a great option compared to buying an item that is likely to sit around and never be used. There are a number of caveats to consider, however, before creating plans that revolve solely around renting items as needed.

The first is the location of the rental facility. If you need a backhoe to create an earthen dam to contain 10,000 gallons of fuel or a tent to set up an incident command post and the closest rental company is 30 miles away, chances are good these supplies won’t make it in time. Heavy traffic could create additional delays.

Trailers or trucks with hitches also may be necessary to transport the equipmentfrom the rental company to the facility. If no one has towing or hauling capabilities, plans to rent equipment may become irrelevant.

Even if the rental company is conveniently located, if there is a natural disaster, the equipment that is needed may not be available because it is being used by others.

With these things considered, when resources are to be rented as needed, it becomes very important to document the availability of these resources in plans. Discuss availability with the rental company and make sure everyone is comfortable with the probability of the resources being available when they are needed.

It is also a very good idea to list backup resources for all items to be rented so that they are readily available if the primary contact does not have the necessary items in stock when they are needed.

Neighboring facilities may be able to provide additional response resources, as well. For facilities located in industrial parks, large response items may be shared. Working with neighboring facilities is a great way to share the cost of items that many facilities could utilize when needed. Be certain, however, to document the storage and maintenance agreements ahead of time so that all facilities are aware of their commitments.

Pulling it Together
Using outside resources does not relieve a facility of its obligation to have spill response plans in place. Plan coordinators also need to consider whether or not these options are indeed viable and practical for their facility. Response drills are one way to help determine this.

When outside resources are going to be used as part of the plan, make sure everyone involved knows about it. If outside responders or support will be used, make time to drill with these entities so everyone becomes familiar and comfortable with one another. Make sure on-site responders know whom to call and when to call them.

If outside equipment will be utilized, bring it in during drills and train responders to use it. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to know that you are welcome to borrow air monitoring equipment from the hazmat team if no one on site knows how to use it. On-site responders need to be comfortable using borrowed items so that during an actual response, time is not lost wondering how something works.

It is also very important to keep plans and contact information up to date. Verify contact information for rental companies at least annually. If outside responders or organizations are included, make sure they have copies of the up-to-date plans for their records and training.

Although using outside resources can make plans a bit more complicated, the benefits of having created plans that will be easier to enact and using resources that will meet every need far outweigh the inconvenience in planning. Responders will be better able to fulfill their roles. Outside agencies, when needed, will be ready and able to assist.

This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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