"The lack of information about components of a pipeline system can put emergency responders at greater risk and reduce the effectiveness of the response," NTSB said June 8.

NTSB's PG&E Inquiry Sparks Three Recommendations

The board said its investigation of the September 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion has revealed emergency responders nationwide may not have the information they need to react effectively to a leak or rupture.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued three safety recommendations June 8 to address what its investigation of the San Bruno, Calif., pipeline explosion in September 2010 has identified as deficiencies in emergency notification procedures. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) pipeline ruptured and triggered a massive explosion Sept. 9, killing eight people, injuring many others, and destroying 38 homes.

Emergency responders in communities around the country may not have the information they need to respond most effectively to a pipeline leak or rupture, NTSB said.

The local fire department in San Bruno was aware of the PG&E natural gas distribution system through their city but unaware of the much larger transmission pipeline that ruptured. "The lack of information about components of a pipeline system can put emergency responders at greater risk and reduce the effectiveness of the response," the agency said, adding that it is concerned this lack of information is common elsewhere.

The board recommended that DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issue guidance to pipeline operators regarding sharing system specific information (including pipe diameter, operating pressure, product transported, and potential impact radius) with emergency response agencies in the jurisdictions where their pipelines are located.

NTSB said for 16 minutes after the rupture in San Bruno, the local 911 emergency call center was not notified by PG&E technicians as they tried to interpret the alarms and low-pressure indications on the pipeline. "Because the prompt notification of local emergency response agencies through 911 can be crucial to the success of the emergency response effort, the NTSB has recommended that PHMSA issue guidance to pipeline operators about the necessity of control room operators immediately and directly notifying the appropriate 911 emergency call centers when a possible rupture of any pipeline is indicated," the board said.

NTSB recommended that PG&E require its control room operators to immediately call 911 when a possible rupture of any pipeline is suspected.

"Pipeline operators and emergency responders must work together to protect their communities," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "To enhance public safety they must coordinate in advance and ensure that timely notification occurs during an emergency."

The San Bruno accident investigation continues, with conclusions and a determination of probable cause to be released later this year.

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