Guest Blog contributed by Terry Strahan
There has been a number of emergency response situations located within major metropolitan areas in the past couple of years. These urban events pose unique issues that are not common within typical emergency response scenarios. Traffic, storm sewers, complex drainage systems, unexpected release points, and the general public create additional obstacles for responders to navigate. There has been an outcry from local officials and the public for pipeline operators to be more aggressive in their approach to planning and responding to these types of inner-city scenarios. There have also been requests for pipeline operators to be more transparent in their response strategies. How pipeline operators are addressing these issues is a topic for discussion within many cities of all sizes in the United States.
Pipeline Operators go to great lengths in the emergency-planning phase to determine potential spill paths and impacts zones. But when it comes to inner-city responses, vital information that could have a major influence on how the emergency response is handled is not always shared. Storm sewers and drainage systems are typically complex networks of piping that lay beneath every city in America. Once a release of liquids or gas enters one of these systems, responders have no way of tracking its progress or determining an effective strategy for blocking the movement or distribution throughout the system. As seen in the Salt Lake City incident in 2010, spilled product found its way into a city park in the middle of downtown. While spill modeling identified flow paths into Salt Lake City, not having maps of the underground storm sewer system prevented responders from having an effective spill response strategy. Operators and local officials need to work together with a common goal of determining how best to address this complex web of issues.
- Operators should reach out to city and county officials to provide access to storm sewers and drainage system, for use in developing spill response plans
- First Responders should team up with pipeline operators to participate in desktop scenarios and simulated spill response exercises in order to coordinate response efforts
- Resource Pre-Planning should identify locations to best stage equipment for a more effective response
- Identify Oil Spill Response Organizations (OSROs) ahead of time to prepare specialized resources and communicate Tactical Plan Overviews needed for proper deployment of these resources.
These are just a few of the action items that could impact the effectiveness of an Inner-City Spill Response. Site-specific considerations should be taken into account.
Federal, State, County and Local governments are weighting in on this topic with varying degrees of interest. While the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the driving force behind how federal laws are being enforced, actions by state and local officials could have a far more reaching effect on how to solve this issue.
Terry Strahan is the GIS Manager – Houston Operations at Morris P. Hebert, Inc. Terry has 20 years’ experience applying GIS technology to solving real-world problems in various fields, including Pipeline GIS Management and Environmental and Emergency Response and Gas, Electric and Landbase Data Management. He can be reach at 713-219-1470 ext. 4419.
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