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Solar Radiation Storms Affect Emergency Planning

  
  
  

In January of 2012, the earth experienced the largest solar storm since 2003. Although the full impact of the coronal mass ejections (CME) was moderate because of the trajectory path, scientists believe that the sun is entering an active period know as "solar maximum", with the height of activity predicted to occur in 2013.

According to Discovery News,
“As the sun increases in activity toward "solar maximum" (predicted to occur in 2013), we can expect more intense solar storms over the coming months. Magnetic activity is bursting through the solar "surface" (the photosphere), producing a rash of sunspots. This in turn has resulted in explosive events -- solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- boosting the intensity of radiation environment surrounding our planet.”

Solar Radiation - TRP Corp

What does this mean for Environmental, Health and Safety Professions?

Solar storms can adversely affect established infrastructure, specifically power supplies and satellite-based communications. Since the sun’s electromagnetic activities are predicted to be at an elevated activity level into 2013, the chances of disruptions become more likely. Emergency managers should review and revise plans accordingly.

1) Potential power failures: Power companies, which operate long transmission lines, are subject to damage by CME’s. On March 13, 1989, Quebec and portions of the northeastern United States, experienced a nine hour power failure to over 6 million people due to a large geomagnetic storm. Some areas of Sweden were similarly affected.

Solar storms are also harmful to electrical transmission equipment, especially generators and transformers. The CMEs can induce core saturation in these devices, which constrains performance.  The safety devices within these devices can also be tripped, causing coils and cores to overheat, causing damage.  

2) Communications failures:  Solar storms can adversely affect current satellite technology by interfering with signals sent to and from the satellites. Many businesses are susceptible to CME’s because of the complex dependency on satellite technology. Current satellite technology is used to synchronize computers, and direct navigational systems, telecommunications networks, and other electronic devices. GPS systems and cell phones also can be affected by CMEs.

Effective emergency planning and business continuity plans and systems should be implemented due to the many unknown events which may occur. However, increased solar activity further amplifies the need to identify critical business processes, safety procedures, and the necessary infrastructure for a rapid recovery to “business as usual” after an event.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Material Safety Data Requirements for Emergency Planning

  
  
  

Accurate Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) need to be available to employees and  potential  responders. There is the potential that the MSDSs will not be useful to local response groups unless they are familiar with the presented information.  Understanding this information will assist responders in assessing hazards assessment for pre-emergency planning or actual response to an emergency.

According to Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

  • The Chemical Sampling Information (CSI) file contains listings for approximately 1500 substances
  • The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Substances Inventory lists information on more than 62,000 chemicals or chemical substances
  • Some chemical libraries maintain files of material safety data sheets (MSDS) for more than 100,000 substances.

The number of chemicals is growing on a daily basis. The Chemical Abstract Service (CAS), a division of the American Chemical Society has registered more than 62 million substances. According CAS’s website, “The CAS registry is a collection of disclosed unique organic and inorganic substances, such as alloys, coordination compounds, minerals, mixtures, polymers, and salts, and more than 62 million sequences.”

The Beginning the Hazard Analysis Process, which was originally published as part of the Hazardous Materials Response Handbook (third edition) states, “a first responder might
reasonably be expected to encounter any of 1.5 million of these chemicals in an emergency, with 33,000 to 63,000 of them considered hazardous. To complicate matters, these hazardous chemicals are known by 183,000 different names. Fortunately, not all of these chemicals are equally common.”

TRP Corp - MSDS

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) specifies required information that must be included on MSDSs. The standard states that “chemical manufacturers and importers shall obtain or develop a material safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. Employers shall have a material safety data sheet in the workplace for each hazardous chemical which they use.”

OSHA requires that each MSDS must contain the following sections, written in English:

  1. Manufacturer's Name and Contact Information, including emergency numbers and addresses.
  2. Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information, including chemical name, formula, common name, chemical family and associated synonyms. 
  3. Physical/Chemical Characteristics, including detailed chemical properties
  4. Fire and Explosion Hazard Data
  5. Reactivity Data
  6. Health Hazard Data
  7. Precautions for Safe Handling and Use,  including spill and leak procedures
  8. Control Measures, includng special protection information and  precautions

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved an alternative format and published a standard Z400.1-1993, "American National Standard for Hazardous Industrial Chemicals-Material Safety Data Sheets-Preparation."

The following are standards set forth by ANSI. However, OSHA requirements must be included in the MSDS in order to meet compliance requirements.

Section 1. Chemical Product & Company Information
Section. 2. Composition/Information on Ingredients
Section. 3. Hazards Identification
Section. 4. First Aid Measures
Section. 5. Fire Fighting Measures
Section. 6. Accidental Release Measures
Section. 7. Handling and Storage
Section. 8. Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
Section. 9. Physical and Chemical Properties
Section. 10. Stability and Reactivity
Section. 11. Toxicological Information
Section. 12. Ecological Information
Section. 13. Disposal Considerations
Section. 14. Transport Information
Section. 15. Regulatory Information
Section. 16. Other Information

For an understanding of the necessary elements in creating an effective fire pre plan, download our Fire Pre Planning Guide.

TRP Fire Pre Plan Image

 

The Four Main Nuclear Plant Emergency Preparedness Terms

  
  
  

After Virginia’s earthquake in August 2011, media immediately compared regional nuclear plants outcomes to the Fukushima Nuclear plant fallout that was damaged in Japan’s unprecedented earthquake and subsequent destructive tsunami. Nuclear plant classification terms were hyped as “Breaking News”, when in fact, nuclear plants activated their preparedness plans and warded any nuclear disaster.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires nuclear plants be able to withstand the most severe natural phenomena, including earthquakes and hurricanes.

The NRC’s four emergency classification terms exist so that the proper on-site emergency procedures and inspections can take place if needed. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a declaration of an “unusual event” or “alert” is not indicative of danger to the public or workers at the plant.

The nuclear site closest to the Mineral, Virginia epicenter was Dominion Virginia Power’s North Anna Nuclear Plant. During an interview with CNN, Dan Stoddard, Senior Vice President - Nuclear Operations with Dominion, said it never entered his mind that this could be another Fukushima because of how the system worked to shut down and activate backup power sources.

TRP Corp - Nuclear Preparedness

NRC has developed a list of emergency classification terms which indicate a level of risk to the public. Nuclear power plants commonly use the four emergency classifications listed below in order of increasing severity.

  • Notification of Unusual Event - Events in process or that have occurred which may indicate potential degradation in the level of safety of the plant are labeled Notification of Unusual Event.  No release of radioactive material requiring off site response or monitoring is expected unless further degradation occurs.
  • Alert - If an alert is declared, events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potential substantial degradation in the level of safety of the plant. Any releases of radioactive material from the plant are expected to be limited to a small fraction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protective action guides (PAGs).
  • Site Area Emergency - A site area emergency involves events in process or which have occurred that result in actual or likely major failures of plant functions needed for protection of the public. Any releases of radioactive material are not expected to exceed the EPA PAGs except near the site boundary.
  • General Emergency - A general emergency involves actual or imminent substantial core damage or melting of reactor fuel with the potential for loss of containment integrity. Radioactive releases during a general emergency can reasonably be expected to exceed the EPA PAGs for more than the immediate site area.

Only after thorough inspections are concluded and the plant is deemed safe for operations are the emergency classifications are lifted.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Effective Emergency Management and the Mitigation Process

  
  
  

There is a direct correlation between effective emergency management and the quality of the response plan and level of training/familiarity of the plans. Consequently, the planning process should be a continuous cycle of mitigating risk, revising emergency response plans, and routine emergency training and exercises. The plans become more effective when emergency planners apply the lessons learned from drills and real emergencies to improve the plan.

Emergency management is the organized process by which industrial facilities, corporations, schools and communities:

  • Mitigate risk
  • Prepare for hazards that cannot be fully mitigated
  • Respond to emergencies
  • Recover from emergencies and restore facility and operations to its pre-emergency condition.

A key element in developing emergency response plans is to addressing situations that may contribute to or cause escalation into an emergency situation. The planning process should identify these situations and include steps to minimize the impact or mitigate an emergency. According to OSHA, mitigation is an action or series of actions taken to reduce the loss of life or damage to property from all hazards.

Emergency Management - TRP Corp

Specific mitigation actions are site specific and need to be tailored to each facility.
The following hazards should be taken into account during the planning process. This may include, but are not limited to:

  • Ignition sources that could result in fires and explosion
  • Kidnapping
  • Medical emergencies
  • Nuclear incidents
  • Illnesses/injuries
  • Riots/Protests
  • Terrorism
  • Trespassing/armed intruder(s)/hostage situation
  • Hazardous materials (Poisoning by inhalation, ingestion, or absorption, or injection)
  • Chemical threats
  • Electrocution shock sources
  • Flooding and other severe weather
  • Rail lines that transport hazardous materials

Emergency planners should work with local agencies, fire and police departments, stakeholders, neighboring outside businesses, hospitals, and community organizations to ensure that their  emergency response response plans are coordinated with local emergency plans.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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