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A presentation to
The 1989 Virginia Hazardous Materials Conference
Virginia Beach, VA on September 28, 1989
by Ludwig Benner, Jr., Chairman, Board of Directors and Executive VP
Events Analysis, Inc., 12101 Toreador Lane, Oakton, VA 22124-2217

Opening remarks

It is so good to see this large group assembled to this Hazardous Materials conference! My days in this field go back to the time when you were lucky to get five people in a room to talk about the problems and solutions you are going to talk about here - and then they were all from the same organization. Hardly any coordination.

It's exciting to me to see how interest in the field has grown, and how people from all parts of the hazardous materials community are talking to each other these days. The quantity and quality of talent at this meeting is a far cry from the handful of that started out to bring about a reduction in the risks with which you deal.

There is a continuing stream of newcomers as well as old timers involved in this field of hazards materials and hazardous materials response activities. Each person brings new or continuing energy to the problems and solutions that need to be addressed in this field. Collectively, their actions shape the course of these activities for the future.

In setting a course for the future, often it is helpful to pause just a moment and look back at where we have been, to be sure we stay on the most desirable course. I would like to do just that during the next few minutes. Then I'd like to offer my view of where we might have to steer this field, in group activities such as this conference, and individually in our day-to-day work in the 1990s.

The Decade of the 1950s

This decade could probably be characterized as the "Scaling Up" decade for our discussion today.

Come back with me to the 1950's for a moment. That was the decade after a widespread war had devastated a large portion of the world. The focus was on rebuilding for a better future. The production miracles in our country during the war had stirred up new visions of what could be done, on a scale that was unthinkable before the war.

Three developments were to have a profound effect on the hazmat field, and the need for you to be here today. The first was the idea of "economies of scale" or cutting costs by working with large quantities. It was implemented in production facilities, and in transportation in many ways. Chemicals, petroleum products and other commodities move from small plants to much larger plants of a scale that had been undreamed of before "the war." The idea of "Bigger is better" got its real start in industry in the 1950s. Plans were laid for major changes, and development work started in earnest to implement the idea everywhere you looked. "Scale up" ideas dominated the mind set of industry, government and academia during that decade. They are still widely prevalent, and affect why you are here.

A second development was the introduction of a vast array of new products, as industry began to respond to new opportunities, and to utilize the large crop of "GI Bill" veterans and their imaginative ideas. Changes introduced during this period in the type, nature, quantity and form of materials were wide ranging. If you're ever interested in tracking the changes, trace the changes in the dangerous goods commodity lists and authorized containers on the list from the 1950s thru the 1980s. There was also a lot of regulatory work going on at that time, setting up events of the next decade.

A third development, more subtle than the other two also emerged. It was during this decade that the added value concept took hold, really stimulating the search for new products which would bring higher prices because of their greater value to users. A pound of chlorine shipped as chlorine gas produced substantially lower revenues than that same pound of chlorine in say 20 pounds of DDT, a chlorine containing pesticide. Creating a market for propane gas which produced greater revenues that selling the equivalent quantity of crude oil as say heating oil, introduced new risks. Whole new families of chemicals and petroleum products evolved. And they had to be moved.

And that still affects you.

The Decade of the 1960s

The decade of the 60s can probably be characterized as the Decade of Growth -- in risks.

During this decade the plans and activities of the 50's started to bear fruit -- in more than one way.

First, the changes of the 50s resulted in larger and larger shipments of hazardous materials. And these larger shipments strained the transport system and infrastructure in ways that had not been anticipated.    I personally have seen tank cars grow during the 60s from 11,000 gallon nominal size in the early 50's to 48,000 gallon sizes and even larger for rail movements. In a fleet that I managed highway trailer sizes grew from 2600 gallons to 7000 gallons and greater. Commodities like chlorine and solvents started moving in barges and ocean tankers, where they had not moved previously by water.

One of the consequences of these larger shipment sizes was the increased losses when accidents occurred.

Another development was the new Department of Transportation created in 1966. The legislation included the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency charged with investigating transportation accidents. Among the first major accidents it investigated were hazardous materials accidents, involving these "jumbo" transporters.

A second development during the 60s would have a profound effect in the 70s.and on those attending this meeting. That was the beginning of the development of predictive safety analysis tools in the aerospace industry. I like to think of these developments as providing new power tools for safety analysis. Prior to the development of these tools safety was retrospective. That means we had to wait for accidents before we analyzed what went wrong and fixed it. With these new power tools, expectations for controlling safety risks began to change.

The Decade of the 1970s

The decade of the 70s can probably be characterized as the Turnaround Decade.

From the foregoing, you can probably guess what happened next. The NTSB started to report on these changes, and took the public position that such accidents were unacceptable. At the NTSB, a risk analysis had showed that firefighters responding to hazmat accidents bore risks 10,000 times greater than any other of the parties at risk, so the NTSB concentrated heavily on their activities at these accidents to see what might be done to reduce those risks. It also brought the parties bearing these risks into the public processes by which the needs of all parties affected by the accidents were brought to light.

This had four major effects. It opened a dialogue between the parties who introduced the risks and the firefighters and others who personally bore the risks in accidents. Such dialogues can result in controversy, or in changes in positions of both parties which in this case is what happened. Shippers started to pay attention to the emergency response needs of the responders, and vice versa.

The second major effect was that these large consequence accidents became less and less acceptable to the public, and the politicians who represent the public. New legislation was passed, putting the regulation of hazmat into a risk-based framework, and providing new safety tools for the regulatory agencies, among other changes. The pressures resulting from the accidents and the political unacceptability of the consequences of the accidents, and the risks to emergency responders, resulted in a $250,000,000 retrofit program for certain hazardous materials tank cars -- the second largest retrofit program ever undertaken in the transportation field. The risks dropped dramatically. The retrofit resulted in over a 95% reduction in the risks associated with that type of accident.  

A third effect was the application of the new safety analysis power tools to some of these accidents, which resulted in the evolution of new concepts about the responder risks, and new strategies and tactics designed to achieve safer outcomes for the emergency responders at risk. More new power tools were developed during the decade, including modeling capabilities to predict the dispersal of hazmat releases, and better investigation technologies that further enhanced the capabilities of analysts to predict risks and control them more effectively, setting the stage for the 80s and 90s.

A fourth change occurred within the emergency response community itself. Emergency responders took a hard look at what they were doing. Many members of the emergency response community recognized the need to change their own thinking when it came to hazardous materials emergencies. The "attack and extinguish" philosophy governing most responses gave way to a different approach for hazardous materials emergencies.

The Decade of the 1980s

The 1980s can probably best be characterized as the Decade of Action and Respect for Emergency Responders.

Driven by Bhopal and other mishaps, in the 80s, legislative bodies came to respect the needs of responders in a big way, reflecting a "safe first time" philosophy that required risks to be considered before certain actions could be undertaken by industry. I won't go into the details because most of you are familiar with them -- Superfund II, the New Jersey Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act, and others mean a lot to you, I am sure.

It was a decade when the politicians listened to emergency responders, and you got a lot of what you asked for.

Where in the past, emergency responders were in a reactive mode, their mode in the 80s began to shift to an active mode. The main effect for the purposes of this presentation is that the emergency response community got a lot of what it asked for because their needs were recognized as legitimate, and the dialogues and incidents had helped soften the opposition.

With these changes, I believe the emergency response field has changed in a dramatic way. The emergency response community's record from now on has become its record, not somebody else's, during this decade.

To sum up, where are we now?

First, you have the attention and respect of the communities you serve, and they are being relatively supportive of you resource needs. You could always use more, but look at what you have today vs. what you had 20 years ago.

At the National level, you have the attention of the legislators, as evidenced by the legislative support you have received in recent years. You didn't get everything you asked for, but compare what you have today with what you had 20 years ago.

Technically, there are new safety analysis power tools available to help you predict with reasonable accuracy the problems you face in emergencies. They are not perfect, but consider what you have today with what you had 20 years ago.

But these are not the biggest changes for you, as I see it. The biggest change is that now the hazmat emergency response record has become the emergency response community's record. If it is turns out good, you can claim credit for bringing it about. If it turns out badly, you will held accountable for that result.

You are now making your record.

What does that mean for the decade ahead - the 1990s?

The Decade of the 1990s

I would characterize the 90s as your Decade of More and Better. The irony is that the more you do and the better you do it, the less the public will think they need you.

This means that you will have to watch the record you are making. You will need to stay alert to what might be called the "more and better" issues. The good news is that you have never been in a better position to do that. You will have to be alert to the "more and better" issues so you can address them in a timely and effective manner, and so you don't jeopardize the support you now have. The bad news is that the public forgets quickly.

More and Better what?   I offer the following "more and better" examples.

1. More competition for resources

One of the issues you will have to watch for is more changes in the hazmat concerns in your communities and among your supporters, particularly as they affect priorities for allocation of resources you need for hazmat. My observations all suggest that the competition for resources will continue to intensify in both government and private organizations. What does this mean for hazmat emergency responders?

You compete for resources for your hazmat programs now. There are limits to the resources you can legitimately claim for hazmat. Right now, your hazmat claims are getting reasonable attention. Your success in reducing accidental losses during hazmat emergencies can begin to work against you as the public perceives that the risk has subsided, and it gives more weight to environmental or new social concerns. On the other hand, it is not hard to visualize the fiasco that will follow a major environmental insult by runoff from a hazmat fire operation. How can you keep getting the resources you need, or make do with declining resources?

Better measures of success.

Another need for the 90s this suggests is the need for better measures of your response efforts, to demonstrate first to yourselves and then to others how successful your intervention in an emergency has been.

In our research, I continue to observe examples where the persons making the response decisions are handicapped by an inability to make reasonably informed judgments of losses, whether they are considering a "do nothing" option or a specific action choice. In both cases, this creates problems, because it means any option you chose lacks an objective against which you can measure the success of your decision. You will need to focus on outcomes, in the systems sense.

Better loss data

For the 90s the need to acquire and document better loss data will be important. One of the most frustrating experiences you can imagine in allocating resources is not knowing the benefits that could be gained by spending a particular amount of money to perform a task. What is the expected loss if I do not fund the operation, and what is the new expected loss if I do fund it. Those numbers are not available because inadequate effort is put into capturing the total losses, particularly losses by category of risk bearer, when incidents do occur. What you need is a good guideline for the production of better loss data to support trade-off analyses.

2. More changes in strategies and tactics

The strategies and tactics for your existing operations were pretty well laid out and described in the 70s. But as you make your record in the 90s, I predict more changes in strategies and tactics will be needed for some kinds of operations. For example, how long do you think citizens will continue to accept the closing of a facility or transportation artery like a busy urban beltway or vital bridge link when they see very little potential for injury or damage for the short time they might be exposed, or when they start to learn that you had several other options in most cases? What does this mean to you?

Better System Definition

Our ongoing work persuades me that a major need for better definition of systems and their operations as they relate to hazmat emergencies is needed before more strategic and tactical options can be properly identified. To paraphrase a folk saying, "Everybody talks about the system but nobody does anything about defining it" in documented form for analyses. We can demonstrate that unless you know a system, you can not flow chart it. And without a flow chart, for everyone to use, we have found you can't establish control strategies, tactics and options. Try flow charting actions during an emergency response sometime, and see for yourself what is possible. During the 90s, you will be hearing more and more about this technical change.

Better Lessons Learned Processes

A need for better "lessons learned" processes is clearly indicated, so you can identify candidate improvements in strategies and tactics. A properly conceived and used "lessons learned" system will enable you to point to more and better options, and to assess them properly. This a technical change for which technology is available, but lacks managerial interest to implement..

3. More attention to environmental concerns

Another area where I think more changes will need to be developed is in response to environmental concerns, and to environmentally threatening situations. I often wonder why we make such artificial distinctions between hazmat and environmental emergencies, in view of the commonality of the sources of the effects.

Better environmental action

Hazmat pose a threat to the environment by definition. How do your efforts contribute to the protection of the environment? Is there more of a role for persons with emergency response capabilities to play in protecting the environment? The Exxon Valdes mishap may be instructive, despite its scope. Here the approach may have to be made more preventive. This might be accomplished by using some of Haddon's first few energy control strategies, rather than present reactive responses of barriers or containment.

Better coordination of roles

A need for the 90s this suggests is the need rethink the roles required to satisfy this growing concern for protection of the environment, and specifically your role in both short term and long term efforts. For example, might you knowledge of hazmats in emergencies contribute to the development of new standards for the aggregation of environmentally hazardous materials in certain locations, or in clean-up assistance helping the EPA. This would require new levels of coordination that may seem unrealistic at first glance, but should you make an effort in this direction? When you look at the tasks involved, it occurs to me that the police and firefighting communities could have a lot to offer, with proper consultations and coordination. Jurisdictional boundaries will have to be reconsidered - agency, state and Federal.

Not that you aren't busy now, but ......who knows?

What will 1999 look like?

My best guess:

Smaller and smaller losses due to a combination of better hazmat responses and the constructive influence of emergency response personnel and their views on the system.

Continuing performance improvement with less resources by emergency response organizations, through better dialogues and coordination of resources and role definition, use of safety's new power tools, and resource allocation pressures.

In summary,

We've come a long way.

There's still lots of room for new ideas and better actions.

Your future is brighter than it has ever been if you stay alert and responsive to the changes ahead!