ERG: An Essential First Responder Resource

Since its inception in 1976, this guide has become internationally recognized. DOT wants to have a copy in every emergency service vehicle nationwide.

In its more than 30 years of existence, the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) has been the “go-to” reference for first responders faced with the possibility of a hazardous materials incident— and it will continue to be the essential reference. In order to reflect changes in both domestic and international regulations, the ERG is republished every four years in English, French, and Spanish. Now an internationally recognized emergency response resource, ERG 2008 will be reproduced in more than 19 languages worldwide.

In the Beginning
From ERG’s inception in 1976, it has been a goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation for all public emergency response vehicles to carry a copy. Nine editions of the guidebook have subsequently been published and distributed without charge to the emergency responder community in the United States alone to achieve this goal.

ERG provides initial information to first responders for emergencies involving hazardous materials. The guidebook is designed to assist first responders in two key areas: to allow them to quickly identify both the generic and specific hazards associated with the materials involved in the incident, and to assist them in better protecting themselves and the general public during the initial response phase of the incident.

The importance and utility of ERG cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone of many emergency response plans and incident management systems, and it also provides a consistent, standardized approach for first responders to use if they are handling an incident involving hazmats. ERG also is intended to be used in conjunction with other “clues” regarding the hazardous materials found at the scene of an incident— for example, placards and labels on transport vehicles or containers.

How to Use the ERG
The guidebook is divided into five sections and color-coded to maximize efficiency and ease of use.

The white-bordered pages provide basic information on how to use the ERG, safety precautions, emergency contact numbers, placards, general guidance on protective clothing, scene management, and some intermodal container information.

Yellow-bordered pages are the numerical list of dangerous goods by Identification (ID) numbers, formerly identified by UN (United Nations) or NA (North American) numbers. The blue-bordered pages also provide a list of dangerous goods, but here they are listed in alphabetical order according to the hazardous material’s name. Both of these sections quickly point the emergency responders to the appropriate response guide that must be followed for the particular dangerous goods emergency on which they are working.

Green-bordered pages contain a table that lists dangerous goods by ID number that represent a toxic by inhalation hazard (TIH) and the appropriate isolation and protective action distances that must be respected when responding to an incident involving those substances.

Orange-bordered pages are the true “heart” of the ERG and represent the numbered emergency response guides that are referenced in both the blue and the yellow sections of the guide. These two-page, comprehensive guides provide all of the safety recommendations and emergency response information to protect first responders and the public from the potential hazards caused by a dangerous goods incident.

Recent Changes
As new advances in technologies have been made, the ERG has evolved with a broader reach. Today, there are more choices and easier ways of getting the guidebook into the hands of first responders. Originally it was available only as a print-based publication, but now responders can obtain it in several electronic formats. Depending on individual needs and requirements, the ERG is available in PDF formats, online versions, and through different software options for PCs, PDAs, and some cellular phones.

Reflecting changes in both domestic and international legislation, ERG 2008 contains more than 50 amendments to proper shipping names and ID numbers. The lists of hazardous materials found in the yellow and blue bordered pages are updated to reflect those changes. Additionally, a new entry for Lithium Ion batteries is included, and ethanol has new entries and identification numbers added. ERG 2008 also represents the first publication in the series since the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs were merged; as a result, there is new information introduced regarding pipeline markers.

In response to feedback from the first responder community, the “Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distance Table” in the green-bordered section is split into two tables to better facilitate initial incident response actions when TIH hazards are involved. In addition, it was felt that further color coordination would improve the user friendliness of the guidebook, and this enhancement has been made in several sections.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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