Developing a Hazardous Materials Based Clandestine Lab Team-NFPA 472

Developing a Hazardous Materials Based Clandestine Lab Team-NFPA 472

Developing a Strategy for a Multiagency Hazardous Materials Response: 

Clandestine Drug Laboratories-NFPA 472 

By Michael Shedd

Clandestine Laboratories, trafficking, and production whether narcotic or explosive based in nature, continue to be an issue nationwide with production types varying in type. From residential structures, hotels, schools, shops or in vehicles there is no limit on these hazards. Since the mid 1980’s, manufacturing of narcotics has spread from the west coast to the east, and as far south as Florida. Shifting from methamphetamine, to heroin, to now fentanyl production, these target hazards continue to appear with the rapid availability of precursor elements, and an ever growing opioid epidemic sweeping the U.S, a multiagency approach to these illicit laboratories should be a high priority on your list. Unlike the rise and fall in COBRA programs post 9/11 across the US, clandestine labs still remain a major issue, that many teams can incorporate into their team approach to “all hazards” response, to continue funding justification for additional training, equipment and manpower by connecting and devolving good working relationships with various agencies in your AHJ, pre-incident to identify response guidelines and establish responsibilities whether mission specific or an overall approach when responding to a clandestine lab. 

As stated many times before, the time to meet face to face with other responding agencies regardless of their role, is not at 3 am on side of the road scratching heads trying to come up with a game plan. Why make it happen on the fly, when you can develop response policies, have pre-planned IAPs, 200 series forms pre-populated, and a priority task list established? Many people often make comments like “we don’t respond to those type incidents” or in terms of the fire service, often heard is “That isn’t a fire department based issue, that falls onto law enforcement, it’s their mess anyway. Drugs aren’t us.” But, this is where people are wrong! Many Fire Service agencies do medical first response, from very basic first responder level BLS care, to full ALS level care handling all types of medical emergencies from traumatic injuries to back pain, but what about the K2, or Opioid epidemic sweeping the US? Do agencies not run calls for services for overdoses? Exactly! Yes! We know overdose calls do not originate from drinking water, the source comes from narcotics! When responding to an overdose, what must be known? What was used? How long ago? What dosage? So, to say illicit substances “aren’t our problem” is simply suppressing yet another unknown many people try to avoid. 

In previous articles, we have dug into some commonly produced substances from clandestine labs, but now we will shift into what you will need to help assist in the development and funding of a multiagency response effort for your agency. Where do I start? I don’t have enough technicians to barely make a team, let alone a Clandestine Lab Team! How exactly does a hazardous materials team tie into all of this? Clandestine Lab locations often use extremely dangerous chemicals, and frequently have large quantities being stored improperly. We aren’t talking fixed storage facilities, with proper labeling and SDS information on hand. These labs result in damage to the environment from water way contamination to air and soil quality issues, all of which fall into the hazardous materials arena. Facing a shortage in manpower at the technician level? Consider mission specific cross training to members of other agencies responding. First let’s address the issue most people face when deciding what subject to approach. What training is required to handle these incidents? 

First, let’s address who will make up the “Multiagency Response Team”? Like they say, a boat is easier to row when more people are rowing, but when people aren’t rowing in the right direction it becomes counterproductive. Who does this team consist of, who do we need or not need?  As recommended by the Bureau of Justice, a “Program Coordinator”  – to take the lead of the task force – will have the ultimate authority over the team and it’s operations. Below you will find a breakdown of specific positions that the Bureau of Justice has outlined in a document pertaining to clandestine lab response. 

Program Coordinator: He or she should be responsible for overall CLEP administration and clandestine laboratory investigations. The coordinator may also be responsible for developing and informing employees of procedures regarding safety, industrial hygiene, and training requirements; coordinating hazardous waste contracts (this may also be the Department of Environment’s responsibility); providing technical advice and training in laboratory investigations and safety; reviewing and approving the selection of health and safety equipment; coordinating the medical surveillance program; and serving on a regional, State, and/or countywide clandestine laboratory strategic planning team. 

Law Enforcement: These should include an onsite supervisor or incident commander, an entry team, a site safety officer, a site safety appraisal team, a forensic chemist, criminal investigators, latent print analysts, and a photographer. Financial investigator. He or she may be an employee of the law enforcement agency or the prosecutor’s office, and should be responsible for all aspects of the financial investigation (when appropriate) of clandestine laboratory operators.

Prosecutor: The prosecutor plays a critical role in the program’s overall effectiveness, providing essential oversight of all aspects of the investigative process, ensuring that the criminal and civil (when appropriate) cases are properly developed and prepared and that financial investigations are properly conducted, assisting with search warrant and case preparation, preparing affidavits for destruction of all hazardous material, providing ongoing training on legal matters to other CLEP members, and serving as a member of the strategic planning team.

It is important for the prosecutor to be aware of the broad range of laws and strategies that are available for litigating cases related to clandestine laboratory enforcement. Knowledge and application of civil, health/safety, environmental, and child neglect/endangerment codes can, in some cases, result in enhanced sentences and facilitate recovery of cleanup costs. For example, a Los Angeles County prosecutor used the California Health and Safety Code 11470.2(b) to bill the laboratory operators for recovery of the costs of “seizing, eradicating, destroying or taking remedial action with respect to the manufacture or cultivation of a controlled substance.” Since prosecutors on both State and local levels can marshal all the necessary legal and law enforcement resources to conduct comprehensive investigations, they may, in some jurisdictions, serve as the CLEP’s general coordinator. Regardless of the role played in the MART, it is important that the prosecutor be cross-designated as a special U.S. Attorney for cases that may warrant Federal prosecution.

WMD/COBRA/HAZMAT Team: These teams provide onsite support services to the law enforcement, health, and environmental personnel. They also may be valuable resources for ongoing training and technical assistance to all members. They will provide air monitoring, evidence collection, life safety assessments, damage assessment, decontamination, chemical analysis, and drug/substance identification, incident command, EMS, Site Safety and documentation to briefly cover a few areas. 

Health/Environmental Agencies: These officials are responsible for assisting law enforcement and fire department/HAZMAT teams onsite in accordance with their departments’ guidelines and procedures. Health department officials may be principally responsible for posting contaminated properties, notifying residents of health and safety risks, and developing and implementing guidelines for the cleanup of residual contaminants. They may also provide technical advice to law enforcement agencies regarding compliance with OSHA and other State safety and health regulations, the selection and maintenance of safety equipment, and the development of employee medical monitoring/surveillance programs. These officials may be responsible for acquiring the disposal contractor, monitoring the removal of hazardous chemicals and contaminated equipment, and monitoring the cleanup of the laboratory’s exterior environment.

This guide is an extremely well written guideline for new teams, and for those who need clarification on team specific positions and outlining the requirements.  


If you recall back to your initial haz-mat training, when you were certified to meet the requirements of NFPA 472, response to illicit clandestine labs (Narcotic, WMD, Explosive) is included as a competency skillset required regardless whether you meet awareness, operations or technician level certification. While most training centers do not cover this topic merely more than reading over It briefly, it falls back on us as individuals to maintain and understand what these requirements outline. In the 2018 edition of NFPA 472 Chapter 6, section you will find a breakdown of the specifics when dealing with clandestine labs. NFPA begins with addressing the level of competencies of training that responders must have (Knowledge of PPE selection etc) which leads into, which states an operations level responder must be paired under guidance of a technician level member for the duration of the operational period. Given the amount of manpower coming from various agencies involved as outlined above, if you have technicians that are responding as the haz-mat element of the MART, why can you not train law enforcement, fire service, or health/environmental personnel to the operations mission specific level for the specifics of your operation? Let’s start breaking down the complexity of haz-mat incidents, and get on a real approach to managing them. Hazardous Materials is beefed up to be this monster full of unknowns, why complicate it? Find what works for you, and build towards success.  We aren’t asking for the environmental agency on scene to do everything, just help pull their weight on the response team, and offer manpower to ease the workload of a task that might not require a technician to be tied up while higher priority tasks wait. 

Onto   “Given a hazardous materials/WMD incident involving an illicit laboratory; an assignment in an IAP; scope of the problem; policies and procedures; approved tools, equipment, and PPE; and access to a hazardous materials technician, an allied professional, an emergency response plan, or standard operating procedures, the operations level responder assigned to respond to illicit laboratory incidents shall be able to perform the following tasks: 

(1) Analyze a hazardous materials/WMD incident to determine the complexity of the problem, potential outcomes, and whether the incident has the potential to be a criminal illicit laboratory operation, (2) Plan a response for a hazardous materials/WMD incident involving potential illicit laboratory operations in compliance with evidence preservation operations within the capabilities and competencies of available personnel, PPE, and response equipment after notifying the responsible law enforcement agencies of the problem,  (3) Implement the planned response to a hazardous materials/WMD incident involving potential illicit laboratory operations utilizing applicable evidence preservation guidelines,  (4) Report and document illicit laboratory response operations.”

When we step back and look at the overall picture of this topic, who is ultimately responsible for the issue at hand, and has the responsibility to prosecute for the crime being committed? Law Enforcement. Who has the tools, knowledge, and proper PPE to document the evidence for prosecution? Hazardous Materials Teams. While making entry into these labs, who has responsibility of patient care of responders and suspects? EMS. These are brief examples of the many different disciplines needed to achieve the mission. The Center for Domestic Preparedness currently offers a wide variety of courses for all disciples. One specifically is their “Evidence Collection in a Hazardous Materials Environment” PER-201 course. “Hazardous Materials Evidence Collection for CBRNE Incidents (HEC) is a four-day course, during which responders receive instruction in hazardous evidence preservation and sampling, field screening, evaluating physical evidence, responsibilities of evidence collection teams, and methods for evidence documentation and packaging.”  This is an extremely informative course, that should be mandated in every haz-mat technician course. Improper evidence collection, documentation, and chain of custody can make or break a case in a courtroom setting. This is yet just one more skillset we should be up to date on, and not a skill we neglect to train on. 

The agency that will take charge would be the highest law authority on the task force to establish legalities, prosecuting officers, and guidelines expected from all members involved. This is key in the instrumentation of an effective response plan, as there should be zero questions as to who answers to who, or what an individual’s responsibilities are. They should outline the proper evidence collection methods and procedures of their agency, and conduct training on this before the repose plan is ever activated. They shall also outline who will conduct reporting, documentation collaboration, as well as post incident reports, and who they shall be distributed to.

California DOJ states “Personnel shall have successfully completed all applicable training requirements as specified by the training matrix before responding to a clandestine laboratory scene. Training requirements will meet those specified in 29 CFR 1910.120 for emergency response. Law enforcement officers, onsite, and scientific support personnel shall complete the following training: (1) a minimum of 40 hours of (California) DOJ-approved offsite training; (2) a minimum of 3 days of actual field experience under the direct supervision of a trained, experienced onsite supervisor; (3) 8 hours of (California) DOJ approved annual refresher training; (4) a minimum of 8 hours of additional training specific to their responsibilities and the Department’s health and safety program.”

While many agencies cannot require the same standards such as field experience, there are many entities that offer realistic hands on training in response to these incidents. The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration offers an extensive hands on clandestine lab technician course that covers all aspects of handling labs, and certifies attendees nationally. Check with your local HITDA training agency for your respective state for upcoming training for all subjects involving narcotics, available to hazardous materials teams to a specific degree depending on your involvement in clandestine labs. The national guard also runs an extensive training network, and will come to you to host training as well in terms of counterterrorism and narcotics handling. This program is split across the country into various regions to better serve responders locally. See the end of this document to find links for each agency mentioned.