The ERG Basics: 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook

ERGToday, we are taking it back to the basics. The Emergency Response Guide (ERG), a tool for all responders. Whether you are a Hazmat Technician, Specialist, Awareness, or even not in the fire service but may have to use an ERG today we are going to run a quick refresher for you.

So, remember this tiny little book everyone has somewhere on their truck, or squad car that is crammed away, under all your other reference materials, and general stuff you don’t use? Well, dig it out and let’s take a look at the coffee stained headache. The ERG as we will reference it, was created to establish boundaries, and other types of recommendations for hazardous materials incidents. The first edition released by the US DOT in 1973, has aided many responders in determining safe distances and start the process to minimize the hazards at hand, as well as aid in hazardous materials preplans. Understanding how to use the ERG before an incident is key. The time to learn isn’t at 2:30am when it’s pouring down rain and you have a 23 DOT-111 rail car derailment carrying a mix of products.

So, let’s go back over the guide starting with the first section. We are now using ERG 2016, and we start with the first color coded section moving into the pages by color.

Yellow: This section is key in determining what exactly is involved in your incident. Once you have your placard class identified, you can use the 4 digit UN number to begin to determine what exactly are the contents of the load. Once you have located the physical name of the chemical associated for the 4 digit UN number, you can then reference the corresponding guide to lead you further in your product mitigation.

Blue: Blue section is common referenced as the chemical section, and all chemicals are listed in alphabetical order. When looking for a chemical name, remember that just a few letter off can be the difference between an acid, base, or even an oxidizer.

Orange: Orange is the down hill free for all of the ERG process. By reaching this point you have: identified your placard class, researched the UN number, and determine the product name. Now it’s time to piece it all together. In this section you will find offensive tactics recommendations, as well as 2 sets of protective distances that all depend on the type of vessel size. Also included is PPE (Level A, B, C, D, SCBA, or Respirator type). Fire Control, Immediate first aid, evacuation distances, and product spill control recommendations.

Green: When we see green we usually pair the color with hazardous materials. So, remember when referring to the green section you are looking for the toxic and inhalation issues associated with the chemical. The green pages also provides protective distance actions,or how far to stay the heck away! This will aid in preparing for down range mitigation operations as well as establishing Hot, Warm, and Cold Zones.

White: This is the information section for the ERG. Some updates in the 2016 include a more in depth reference chart to various rail car types which can be a huge help when trying to identify early on what type of commodities are involved, which can assist the technician and specialist teams when it comes to product transfers and damage assessments later on in the operation.

Placards for those who do not stay up to date on them are also referenced in the white section, but for a more in depth break down of each product, see a better reference chart. Contact information for “need to know” agencies have been updated. We suggest maintaining a list of these call centers, and response agencies somewhere near by or in your ERG for local agencies or ones not listed in the ERG.   Other information included, are expanding vapors and boiling points, explosives identification, and a chemical index glossary.
ERGs are great tools, but like all tools have their limits.  Remember, the ERG is a first arriving identification tool. Do not depend on it hours into the incident as you should be referring to other guidebooks. Other alternatives to carrying a hard copy ERG, is the ERG application available for IPhone and android. (Keep in mind these should not be used in place of an actual ERG on your response vehicle). Personally, I am a fan of WISER, which has multiple features all in one such as the built in ERG, mapping tools, contact information, reference materials, along with many other useful tools all at your finger tips.

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michael shedd

About The Authormichael

Michael Shedd

Michael Shedd works full time for an agency in South Carolina. He is involved with hazardous materials response on an all-hazards WMD/CBRNE team that covers a full spectrum of possibilities for response, as well as being an active member of the state hazmat workgroup. His background ranges in experience from urban to rural response and from Type 3 to Type 1 teams. Currently assigned to a Type 1 team, he continues to learn and share his experiences with others while having a heavy focus on clandestine operations response due to the current drug-trafficking trend in the southeastern U.S. He also continues to learn more about other hazmat topics. He holds various hazmat certifications in such areas as ground transportation, rail, WMD, hazardous materials incident command, as well as clandestine lab processing. Mike is a contributing editor to Hazmat Nation, powered by HazSim.