Inaccurate situational awareness: Hazardous materials
Knowledge and understanding
|Inaccurate situational awareness: Hazardous materials||
Understand all associated hazard knowledge
Hazardous materials have many properties and behaviours that can make an incident more dangerous. It is therefore vital to recognise their presence as soon as possible to prevent harm from occurring. Responders may encounter this hazard at:
- Incidents where hazardous materials are known or suspected to be involved before arrival
- Incidents where hazardous materials are encountered during operations
The mobilisation and initial response phase of a hazardous materials incident is critical to achieving and enhancing the safety of responding resources. Failure to consider local weather conditions, specialist advice and information from any pre-planning can have a detrimental effect on the usefulness of the resources deployed. In some cases, this may result in responders being exposed to a hazardous material.
Responders should be vigilant on approach to a hazardous material incident. They should confirm any available risk information which may be available in addition to information provided during mobilisation and ensure this correlates with what they are observing on the incident ground.
Casualties of a CBRN(e) attack are likely to be traumatised, either by witnessing the incident and the effect it is having or because of being contaminated themselves. A traumatised casualty may act in an unexpected way. For example, they may be completely unresponsive to commands or unaware of danger even though they are conscious and able to walk; they may walk into the path of an oncoming vehicle without perceiving the danger they are in.
Perpetrators have previously used the tactic of planting secondary devices which may have greater impact than the original device. The incident commander must remain alert to the fact that secondary devices have been used by terrorist organisations to target emergency service personnel. They should ensure that an assessment of secondary threats to the rendezvous point (RVP) that should focus on the elimination, as far as reasonably practicable, of any identifiable threats, which may not be definitive.
Even when the police have declared an area (including the RVP) safe, personnel should be aware of their surroundings, remain vigilant and ensure that their safety is not compromised.
In a suspected or confirmed CBRN(e) incident it is unlikely that it will be possible to identify the contaminant until detection identification and monitoring (DIM) equipment can be deployed. However, the signs and symptoms of the casualties will give an effective indication of the toxicity of the agent and whether it acts through inhalation or skin exposure.
The physical state of the material (solid, liquid, gas or vapour) will affect the risk to responders. Structural firefighting PPE will not provide significant protection against toxic liquids or powders, so direct contact with potential contaminants in solid or liquid form must be avoided. Multiple immediate fatalities attributable to poisoning are indicative of exposure to a contaminant that acts through inhalation.
The environment in which the hazardous material has been released will also vary according to the extent of the hazard and the degree of risk. Volatile vapours will disperse much more readily in open air, reducing the risk for emergency responders. A release within a building or underground may lead to higher concentration levels and the vapour may be slower to disperse.
It may initially be difficult for first responders to recognise that they are responding to a potential or suspected CBRN(e) incident. Information from members of the public or other responders already at the scene will be vital for the effective management of the response in those early stages and for the safety of personnel as they start to arrive. Fire control room will play a key role in the passage of safety-critical information as resources are mobilised and it is essential that any information gathered or received is shared with all those responding as quickly as possible.
Early indication of the scale of the incident and confirmation of some of the key information which points to the fact that responders are dealing with a suspected CBRN(e) incident will be critical to the fire and rescue service and other agencies as they prepare to respond or enhance their initial response to the incident. Information needs to be gathered and shared with multi-agency partners as a matter of urgency.
- Control measureWeather information: Hazardous materials