National Operational Guidance & Hazmats

There were a couple of incidents which caught my eye during the last week, one in the UK and the other abroad. Both incidents involved hazmats and both will have presented significant challenges to the first responders as they arrived and attempted to apply some control to a developing incident.

In the UK we saw an LPG transport tanker involved in fire on the M56 motorway, and in China we saw the devastating aftermath of one of the worlds most serious industrial incidents in recent years. As I write this piece the death toll in China is in excess of 100, with this number comprising mostly firefighters it would seem. A salutary reminder of the hazards faced when attending such incidents.

Its only right to recognise and pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those firefighters in China who didn’t get to go home that night. The VIDEO FOOTAGE(Opens in a new window) that was captured shows a conflagration and explosion of extraordinary scale. It is far too early to speculate about how the incident developed with such catastrophic consequences but hopefully we will find out in due course if the Chinese authorities are as open as we would want them to be. Every incident brings learning that can help prevent reoccurrence, and we can learn something from international incidents as much as home based ones.

The incident on the M56 in Cheshire was certainly spectacular and you may have seen some of the VIDEO(Opens in a new window) that emerged via various media outlets. The incident was one of those ‘once in a career’ events that relies on the commander of the crews who arrive first to rapidly assess the situation and develop a plan that requires a good technical appreciation of what is going on.

Turning to my thinking behind this blog posting, which is not to undertake an armchair critique of these two incidents, I think that both serve as a timely reminder of the dangers posed by hazardous materials and the need for FRS response to be both safe and effective in what can be a hugely technical area of emergency response. Doing so relies on the accessibility of reliable and accurate information in a form which can be readily understood. I’m currently acting as the Project Executive for the new National Operational Guidance programme refresh of the Hazardous Materials guidance. Some of you may be aware that I also lead on Hazmats for CFOA and it seems to be an area of work that requires ever more attention.

Writing the guidance is a huge project, and is being done by a talented team from across the UK FRS and we have also secured support from other individuals outside of the FRS who can bring expertise, knowledge and challenge to our project to help us ensure that it is as relevant and accurate as possible. The new guidance will be written in the format that many of you will now becoming accustomed to. If you’ve not seen it have a look at the WEBSITE(Opens in a new window) as this is now the ‘go to’ place for FRS guidance.

All of the new guidance will be web based, and is initially pitched at providing policy writers with the framework against which to produce local policy and procedures. In time the NOG programme aims to produce training and knowledge materials to support FRS, and work is currently underway through the NOG Implementation Forum to consider how best to produce tactical guidance at a national level.

As all services contribute, along with central government, to the NOG Programme its important for us to ensure that we get good value for the money that we contribute. In the fullness of time the vision is that through regional and national collaboration we are able to efficiently produce operational guidance that facilitates interoperability through consistency of content and presentation. In doing so we will move away from policy teams in each and every FRS, this will save us money and lead to us being able to better work together. It all makes good sense, and you can argue that its been a long time coming.

The programme has very recently produced the new INCIDENT COMMAND guidance and the accompanying FOUNDATION DOCUMENT, a project which our own Chief, Simon Pilling, has acted as Project Executive for. We will be adopting this new guidance in due course.

I’d encourage anyone who has not yet done so to take a look at the NOG website, there is a lot of information on there about the programme and a developing library of reference material too.

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