HazMat Operations – Begin With The End In Mind

HazMat Operations - Begin With The End In Mind

HazMat Operations – Begin With The End In Mind

District Chief Josh Fowler
You – “Event command to headquarters.”

Dispatch – “Go ahead, event command.”

You – “Event command will be terminating the incident at this time. All units are back in service.”

The above dialogue is what we all strive for, right? The end of the event; putting units back in service and sending them home.

Every emergency event is dynamic and HazMat is no different. Calls should never be considered routine because there are so many things out there to ‘get’ us and our complacency does nothing but make it easier.

While every HazMat call is different in it’s own right, most events can be handled the same way. Make no mistake, there is no magic formula to follow. However, if you begin with the end in mind, mitigation becomes less complicated and more straightforward.

In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he writes about beginning with the end in mind.

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.1

In any emergency event, termination of command is our destination. Understanding how to get there and where we are currently within the event serves as the primer for our next steps which ultimately leads to a successful outcome. So when’s beginning with the end in mind, termination of the event actually marks the beginning. When you’re visualizing the end, you begin to see in your mind’s eye the steps you took to get there.

Three Steps

How is this accomplished? First (hopefully), you trained for this moment and were prepared ahead of time. We are not in the if business. We are in the when business. According to Robert Murgallis, responders rely on two appropriate decision making methods. The two methods he highlights are the classical method and the naturalistic method.2 When training, the classical method is utilized because time is not a factor and the individual is given the opportunity to look for critical cues. These cues are sensory observations that can either be subtle or direct and provide a stimulus that guides behavior. With this method, conclusions are drawn, desired results determined, and appropriate actions taken all within a controlled environment. Through this method, personnel are able to utilize their training as experience and use it toward the next method – the naturalistic method which will be discussed later.

Secondly, you pre-planned. Pre-planning helps you define your risk and plan for the likelihood (probability) of a release. It is through this hazards analysis that estimates are made of the potential for an incident to take place.

A hazards analysis is a critical component of planning for handling releases of hazardous materials. The information developed in a hazards analysis provides both the factual basis to set priorities for planning and also the necessary doc- umentation for supporting hazardous materials planning and response efforts.3

As first responders, our analysis is greatly simplified by using qualitative methods (reasoning that is based on judgment). Should further information be warranted due to scale or area, a quantitative technique may be used by way of technical experts and firms. The hazards analysis involves hazards identification, a vulnerability analysis (i.e., what in the community is at risk to damage should a release occur), and a risk analysis which,

assesses the probability of damage (or injury) that would occur in the community if a hazardous material were released and the actual damage (or injury) that might occur, in light of the vulnerability analysis.4

Lastly, you executed. This is where the second decision making method is utilized. The naturalistic method is employed when personnel have experience and/or adequate training. It emphasizes the use of recognition for decision making where the individual relies on previously encountered situations or a compilation of multiple situations. Similar to the classical process, in order for one to come up with a solution, the individual recognizes the cues from previous experiences and/or training, draws refined conclusions from those experiences, and then directs the most appropriate actions.  With your training and experience, you were able to successfully manage the incident by either the classical or naturalistic methods. Because you pre-planned (whether it be an industrial facility, rail yard, interstate highway, port, etc.), a plan was in place to safely mitigate the problem. Without the first two steps, safely handling the situation would be impossible to execute (the third step).

So what are your expectations of the players and equipment on the field? If the end product is to have a successfully executed response where the bad stuff is contained, the good guys are safe and sound with all of their working parts, and customers are out of harm’s way, how did you get there?

You began with the end in mind

1 – Covey, Stephen R., The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. NY, NY: Free Press, 1989, p. 98. Print.

2 – Murgalis, Robert, Command and Control: ICS, Strategy Development, and Tactical Selections, Book 2. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University, 2015, pp. 10-15. Print.

3 – https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/cleannrt10_12_distiller_complete.pdf  p. 24.

4 – Ibid., p. 27.