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In a 10-year span (2002-2011), there were a total of 162,215 accidents related to hazardous materials (hazmat) across the United States – i.e., an average of more than 1,300 incidents per month – according to the Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). These incidents resulted in 128 deaths, 2,665 injuries, and more than $688 million in damages. Every state had to respond to – and share the consequences of – at least a portion of these incidents. Therefore, the frequency and scope of hazmat-related incidents predicates the need for more responder training in order to manage such events.
A related threat is the terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) warfare materials. Although CBRN attacks are much less likely to occur than the hazmat incidents reported by PHMSA, federal, state, and local governments must still assess the risk within their jurisdictions and be prepared to respond to such threats.
Whether planning for a hazmat accident or a CBRN attack, one of the most important components of fielding an effective response is obtaining and maintaining trained personnel. Not only do well-trained individuals and teams know how to protect themselves and others from incident hazards, they can also prevent small incidents from developing into catastrophes. Regarding individual and team training, there are many issues that have been very challenging in past budget environments, but even more so today with reduced or nonexistent funding from the federal government.
- The vast majority of respondents agree that coordination between federal, state, and local authorities for events related to hazardous materials (hazmat) and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) events is inadequate to ensure a proper response.
- A large majority of respondents believe the quantity of exercises conducted is not sufficient to guarantee a coordinated response by all levels of government.
- More than three-quarters of the respondents believe funding for fully training responders is insufficient, possibly indicating the greatest problementified in the survey.
- Although ensuring adequate responses to hazmat events remains a concern, more than half of respondents believe first responders are prepared to manage events until the hazmat teams arrive.