A Duffer’s Guide to Hazmat Response

HMN - A Duffer’s Guide to Hazmat Response

“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught”Sir Winston Churchill.

Resilience is the backbone of emergency management. The Nation’s ability to weather storms and disasters without experiencing loss, significantly reduces our risk. 

HMN - A Duffer’s Guide to Hazmat Response

In 2019, through the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) process and Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR), 50% of states and territories and 40% or tribal participants identified chemical and radiological hazardous material releases as a hazard of concern. This represents the most frequent technological hazard identified by the respondents; 27% identified radiological hazardous materials, the second highest technological hazard of concern.

This article provides an overview of:

 • Hazardous materials characteristics;

 • Hazardous materials incident response; 

 • Planning for hazardous materials incidents; 

 • Practices to mitigate further damage to communities from hazardous materials and useful contacts.

Hazardous materials can be found in every community. They are in almost every home and in most hospitals and factories. Hazardous materials are shipped every day via land, air, and sea pathways and are frequently used to inspect pipelines If released, hazardous materials may cause harm to people, the environment, critical infrastructure, and property. Their potential for harm exists regardless of whether hazardous materials are released by accident, malicious actor, fire, or weather-related event. 

HMN - A Duffer’s Guide to Hazmat Response

Hazardous material incidents affect a range of stakeholders in the whole community. Workers in facilities who regularly use or handle hazardous materials, transportation carriers, nearby residents and students, first responders, and first receivers are all at risk of health impacts from hazardous materials. Communities can increase their resilience to a hazardous materials incident in several ways, including reducing the likelihood of a release, being prepared to respond to a potential release, and effectively responding if a release does occur. 

First responders use a risk-based response process known as APIE, which stands for “Analyze, Plan, Implement, and Evaluate,” when responding to an incident. This process allows responders to break a complex and potentially overwhelming response down into pieces to aid decision making. 

The goal is to ensure responder health and safety while mitigating emergencies. The APIE process helps responders analyze the clues upon approaching the scene, determine a plan to improve the situation, implement the planned response actions to stabilize the incident, and evaluate the progress. 

The type of equipment needed to handle, store, or deal with hazardous materials varies based on the type of material/substance and the situation. First responders, employees at facilities that store hazardous material, and anyone that encounters hazardous materials should read Safety Data Sheets and labels, follow existing procedures, and understand how to equip themselves to ensure their personal safety. 

Hazard Class

The hazard class of dangerous goods is indicated either by its class number or name. 

  • Class 1 – Explosives
  • Class 2 – Gases 
  • Class 3 – Flammable liquids (and combustible liquids) 
  • Class 4 – Flammable solids; Substances liable to spontaneous combustion; Substances which, on contact with water, emit flammable gases 
  • Class 5 – Oxidizing substances and Organic peroxides 
  • Class 6 – Toxic (poisonous) substances
  • Class 7 – Radioactive materials 
  • Class 8 – Corrosive substances 
  • Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods/hazardous materials and articles.


PPE is a main source of protection for emergency response and recovery workers. Routes of exposure include inhalation, dermal contact, ingestion, or contact through mucous membranes. Therefore, essential protective equipment includes respirators, eye protection, hearing protection, and protective clothing (e.g., gas masks, gloves, overalls, boots, goggles). Depending on the type and severity of the hazard, the recommendations on the use of protective equipment can change. NIOSH maintains a website on PPE15 for emergency responders. This site provides information on properly using protective equipment under different conditions and situations, as well as in-depth information concerning the proper selection and use of respirators. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also produced a guide on workplace PPE. 16 This guide helps both employers and employees: • Understand the types of PPE • Know the basics of conducting a hazards assessment of the workplace • Select appropriate PPE for a variety of circumstances • Understand the training needed to properly use and care for PPE. 


Special detection devices are required to monitor and measure levels of radiation and are available to emergency responders. Different types of radiation have different energy levels, and not all types are dangerous. For example, non-ionizing radiation (from sources such as fluorescent lights, radio waves, and microwaves) has enough energy to move atoms but not enough to alter them chemically. The radiation that poses a threat to humans is ionizing radiation, which can remove electrons from atoms and cause damage to living cells and DNA. Examples of ionizing radiation sources include medical isotopes used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, X-rays for imaging (medical and industrial), and some survey equipment. 


Asphyxiation results from exposure to materials that reduce oxygen to levels that may cause suffocation. Asphyxiation typically occurs in confined spaces or with extremely concentrated forms of simple asphyxiants. Asphyxiants displace so much oxygen from the ambient atmosphere that the lungs can’t supply enough fully oxygenate the tissues and the victim slowly suffocates. Many asphyxiants (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane) are odorless and tasteless (unless odorants are added), so that you could become unconscious without realizing an asphyxiants gas is present. 

Chemical Harm

Chemical harm results from exposure to chemicals, including poisons and corrosives. Injuries and illness vary by material. Chemical agents are classified according to the potential severity of their effects. 

More information on the categories listed below is on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management (CHEMM) website. 

 • Anticholinergic Agents 

 • Biotoxins 

 • Blister Agents/Vesicants 

 • Blood/Systemic Agents 

 • Caustics (Acids) 

 • Choking/Lung/Pulmonary Agents 

 • Convulsants 

 • Long-Acting Anticoagulants 

 • Metals

 • Opioids 

 • Organophosphorus Pesticides and Nerve Agents

 • Organic Solvents 

 • Riot Control Agents/Tear Gas 

 • Toxic Alcohols • Vomiting Agents. 

For more on CHEMM visit: https://chemm.nlm.nih.gov/agentcategories.htm. 

Hazardous Materials Incidents 

Etiological (Biological) Harm Etiological (or biological) harm results from exposure to biological materials, which include bacteria, viruses, and biological toxins. Symptoms of etiological harm are often delayed, because the pathogens often require time to multiply sufficiently to cause illness in the person carrying the pathogen. Mechanical Harm Mechanical harm results from exposure to, or contact with, fragmentation or debris scattered because of a pressure release, explosion, or boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE).


Certain, predictable reactions occur during and immediately after an explosion, which routinely injure or kill anyone in close proximity. The degree of harm is closely related to the size of the explosion and proximity to the device. Sources of injury include: 

  • Fragmentation and flying debris – the most common sources of injury from an explosion. Harm may include impaled objects, bone and skull fracture, and evisceration. 
  • Blast overpressure – a rapid increase in air pressure caused by rapid gas expansion. Human harm includes ruptures to the eardrums, blood vessels, and organs, torn organs, and lung collapse. 
  • Secondary blast injuries – when a victim is thrown by the blast overpressure into other objects. Harm may include spinal injuries, bone, and skull fractures. 

Assistance for Hazmat incidents

Not all jurisdictions have the resources on hand to address hazardous materials incidents. Communities should use the resource management principles of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to leverage the resources of neighboring jurisdictions through mutual aid agreements, private sector partnerships, and volunteer organization involvement. Resource typing is a key activity of resource management—defining and categorizing incident resources by capability to establish a common language for discussing resources. 

The Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT) is an online catalog of NIMS resource typing definitions and job titles/position qualifications that communities can use to manage any incident, including those involving hazardous materials. The RTLT and all NIMS resource typing definitions and job titles/position qualifications released by FEMA are at https://rtlt.preptoolkit.org. 

Use the following NIMS resource types (in the RTLT) to manage hazardous materials incidents: • Hazardous Materials Research Specialist 

  • Hazardous Materials Response Team 
  • Hazardous Materials Response Team Leader
  • Hazardous Materials Technician 

Federal Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents

The National Response System is the mechanism the Federal government uses to respond to a wide range of hazardous materials releases. When a release or spill of oil or a regulated hazardous material exceeds a specified trigger, the organization responsible for the release or spill is required by law to notify the National Response Center at 1-800- 424-8802.

This center is run 24 hours a day by the Coast Guard. Once a report is made, the National Response Center immediately notifies a designated On-Scene Coordinator in the region, as well as state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency personnel. The On-Scene Coordinator coordinates with the state, tribe, or territory, other personnel on site, and the Potentially Responsible Party (responsible for the release or spill) to determine the status of the response.

The On-Scene Coordinator determines whether, or how much, Federal involvement is necessary and deploys the needed resources. The On-Scene Coordinator also ensures that the cleanup, whether accomplished by industry or Federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial officials, is appropriate, timely, and minimizes human and environmental damage. 

The National Response System is part of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, commonly called the National Contingency Plan. More information can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/emergencyresponse/national-oil-and-hazardous-substances-pollution-contingency-plan-ncp-overview. 

Information on reporting requirements is available at: https://www.epa.gov/emergency-response/when-are-yourequired-report-oil-spill-and-hazardous-substance-release. 

Coordinating and integrating planning efforts and plans allows organizations to know their roles, understand how plans fit together, identify and address gaps, execute their plans, and coordinate activities in the event of an incident. Organizations must integrate plans vertically and horizontally;

  • Vertical integration incorporates planning across various scales within a specific function. For example, industry plans should vertically integrate with local emergency response plans. 
  • Horizontal integration incorporates planning across various organizations and jurisdictions. For example, neighboring jurisdictions should horizontally integrate their plans. This integration builds a common understanding of relevant capabilities, relationships, objectives, and resource requirements. 

Planning Landscape

A variety of plans are developed by facilities, by state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and by the Federal government to help prepare for hazardous materials incidents resources include;Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment and Stakeholder Preparedness Review: https://www.fema.gov/threat-and-hazard-identification-and-risk-assessment.

The National Response Center Database can identify previously reported incidents. The search form is at http://www.rtk.net/erns/search.php. Commodity flow studies are a special kind of transportation analysis to identify the types and amounts of hazardous materials transported through a specified geographic area. Information on conducting one is in the Guidebook for Conducting Local Hazardous Materials Commodity Flow Studies at https://www.nap.edu/download/14559. 

Risk-Based Planning 

Planning efforts for hazardous materials incidents should be risk-based and use the THIRA process and SPR21 In the THIRA process, communities consider the following questions: 

  • What are the hazardous material accident risks of transportation and facilities in the community, and how are they being prevented?
  • Are commodity flow studies included as part of analyzing transportation risks? 
  • Based upon the identified risks, what are the plans and capabilities of the response organizations and the community should an accident occur? 
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of all community members (i.e., public and private sector partners) during a hazardous materials incident? 
  • What capability gaps exist, and what plans might be put in place to fill those gaps, based on community priorities? 

Joint Stakeholder Planning

Hazardous Materials Incidents are most effective when a wide range of stakeholders are involved in the planning process and the plans are coordinated and integrated. Below are some of the plans that should be developed: 

  • Industry Risk Management Plans Facilities holding more than a threshold quantity of a regulated substance in a process are required by Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act
  • Amendments to develop and submit a Risk Management Plan (RMP) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that includes: A hazard assessment detailing the potential effects of an accidental release, an accident history of the last five years, and an evaluation of worst-case and alternative accidental releases; A prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee training measures; and An emergency response program that details emergency health care, employee training measures, and procedures for informing the public and response agencies (e.g., the fire department) should an accident occur. 

First Responder Site-Specific Plans

First responders conduct site-specific pre-incident planning to help understand the potential hazards they may face at a given facility (e.g., commercial, industrial, recreational). Pre-planning site visits allow responders to: 

  • Recognize and identify the hazardous materials at each facility; 
  • See what each facility manufactures, how supplies are stored, and what equipment is used; • Obtain specific data on each potentially hazardous material; 
  • Review the facility’s emergency plans. State/Tribal/Territorial Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) States, tribes, and territories receiving emergency preparedness grant assistance from FEMA are required to develop EOPs and update them at least once every two years. These plans are community-based, risk-informed, and all-hazard. Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG). Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans outlines a process for developing EOPs. Local Emergency Planning Committee Response Planning The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, created a new relationship among all levels of government, business and community leaders, environmental and other public-interest organizations, and individual citizens. EPCRA required state governors to designate State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs). SERCs, in turn, designated over 3,500 local emergency planning districts and appointed Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) for  RMP Applicability Guidance: https://www.epa.gov/rmp/general-rmp-guidance-chapter-1-general-applicability. CPG 101: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/25975. EPCRA: https://www.epa.gov/epcra. 

LEPCs form partnerships with governments and industries as a resource for enhancing hazardous materials preparedness. Local governments are responsible for integrating hazardous materials planning and response within their jurisdictions. This includes: 

  • Ensuring the local hazard analysis adequately addresses hazardous materials incidents;
  • Incorporating planning for hazardous materials incidents into the local and tribal emergency plan and annexes; 
  • Assessing developing hazardous materials response capability using local resources, mutual aid and contractors; 
  • Training responders; 
  • Exercising the plan. 

Similar to state responsibilities, the CEO of a tribe appoints the Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERCs). TERCs have the same responsibilities as SERCs. TERCs designate Tribal Emergency Planning Committees with the same responsibilities as LEPCs.

Area, Regional, and National Contingency Plans The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (the National Contingency Plan) is the Federal Government’s blueprint to respond to oil spills and hazardous substance releases. This plan establishes the National Response Team, the National Response System, and 13 Regional Response Teams.

Each Regional Response Team develops a Regional Contingency Plan to coordinate effective regional response. Additionally, 36 Coastal and 13 Inland Areas have Area Contingency Plans. Federal Interagency Operational Plans (FIOPs) FIOPs describe roles and responsibilities, specify critical tasks, and identify Federal resourcing requirements to deliver national preparedness core capabilities.

Chemical Incident Information

  • Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention on Tribal Lands: Familiarizes tribal leaders with EPCRA and CAA Section 112(r) Risk Management Program requirements and how these laws promote an integrated approach to chemical safety on tribal lands. (epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/tribal_fact_sheet_06-16-16.pdf) 
  • Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management (CHEMM): Resources to enable first responders, first receivers, other healthcare providers, and planners to plan for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of mass-casualty incidents involving chemicals. (https://chemm.nlm.nih.gov/)
  • CHEMTREC – American Chemistry Council – Resources: This web-portal provides approved decal suppliers, fact sheets, and case studies by chemical industry leaders. (https://www.chemtrec.com/resources) 
  • Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO): Four software applications, developed by the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. (https://www.epa.gov/cameo/what-cameo-software-suite): – CAMEOfm: Assists with data management requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. (https://www.epa.gov/cameo/cameo-software) – CAMEO Chemicals: Contains critical response information for thousands of chemicals. (https://cameochemicals.noaa.gov/) – Mapping Application for Response, Planning, and Local Operational Tasks (MARPLOT): Links to CAMEOfm to store information on facilities and display potential Hazardous Materials Incidents 20 or actual chemical release scenarios to determine potential impacts and aid decision making. (https://www.epa.gov/cameo/marplot-software) – Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres (ALOHA): This atmospheric dispersion model can be used to evaluate releases of hazardous chemical vapors. (https://www.epa.gov/cameo/aloha-software) 
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Web Portal: Information, training, and planning resources for the requirements of EPCRA. (https://www.epa.gov/epcra) – EPCRA Online Training for States, Tribes, and LEPCs (https://epawebconferencingevents.acms.com/content/connect/c1/7/en/events/event/private/542791/97171446/event_la nding.html?sco-id=97166143&_charset_=utf-8) • NIOSH – Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards: A concise source of general industrial hygiene information for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals. (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-149/default.html) 
  • Responsible Care – American Chemistry Council: Multiple resources from the chemical manufacturing industry’s environmental, health, safety, and security performance initiative. (https://responsiblecare.americanchemistry.com/default.aspx) 
  • Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Database: Tracks the management of toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. (https://www.epa.gov/toxics-releaseinventory-tri-program/tri-data-and-tools) 

Biological Incident Information 

  • Preparation and Planning for Bioterrorism Emergencies: Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plan and prepare for a possible bioterrorism attack. (https://emergency.cdc.gov/bioterrorism/prep.asp) 

Nuclear/Radiological Incident Information 

  • Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM): Guidance from HHS for health care providers, primarily physicians, about clinical diagnosis and treatment of radiation injuries during radiological and nuclear emergencies. (https://www.remm.nlm.gov/) 
  • Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program – Resource Library: Provides state, local, tribal, and territorial governments with planning, training, and exercise guidance and policies to ensure that adequate capabilities exist to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from incidents involving commercial nuclear power plants (NPPs). The Reference Library includes guidance, manuals, regulations and tools for Federal, state, local, tribal and territory government entities. (https://www.fema.gov/reference-library)
  • U.S. Department of Energy – Transportation Emergency Preparedness Program: Provides planning tools, training, and exercises to help first responders effectively respond to accidents of shipments of radioactive material. (https://www.energy.gov/em/services/wastemanagement/packaging-and-transportation/transportation-emergency-preparedness) Hazardous Materials Incidents 21 
  • U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Emergency Preparedness & Response: Information on preparing for a radiological incident or emergency. (https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/emerg-preparedness.html) 
HMN - A Duffer’s Guide to Hazmat Response

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