The initial response to an incident often dictates the success of the outcome. A risk assessment based on poor information is a poor risk assessment. Access to clear and accurate information at the beginning of the incident is crucial. There can be many sources of information and it is therefore important to choose the ones most appropriate to the incident in hand. This section aims to make this process more efficient by outlining some of the key sources of information available to contribute to the successful management of a hazardous materials incident, and where to obtain it.
This document does not provide an exhaustive list of such sources; neither will the available information be replicated here. Using and interpreting this information is discussed in the following section.
The role of the hazardous materials adviser (HMA) is to gather the relevant data to enable the appropriate decisions to be made by the incident commander. The hazardous materials adviser must decide what is relevant information, but there are some guiding points:
- Different sources of information will be available during site-based incident (e.g. chemical manufacturing, distribution or storage site) versus an off-site incident (e.g. on a highway or at a port)
- Common information can typically be obtained from written or electronic sources such as the safety data sheet (SDS), databases or books; this type of information may require further interpretation
- Information obtained from either a product expert or scientific adviser will not usually require further interpretation
- Each information source has advantages and disadvantages but the choice of sources is the responsibility of the hazardous materials adviser (HMA)
- Wherever possible, advice from more than one source should be gained to corroborate the information; a rule of thumb would be to corroborate information using 3 different sources (the ‘rule of three’ or triangulation)
- Sufficient information should be obtained at the point that a clear strategy begins to emerge in planning the response
- The importance of safe direct observations should not be underestimated