As we recover from the shock of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we must understand that terrorists are quite willing and capable of utilizing existing resources to create terror and destruction to harm thousands of civilians. We must also take all reasonable steps to not put the tools of terror into their hands and to better prepare for a response. We should make the following adjustments:
ELECTRONIC REPORTING OF FACILITY DATA
It is more imperative than ever that firefighters and emergency responders have the critical data about a facility. This includes information about the hazardous materials used, stored or manufactured at the facility, the processes involved, ingress, egress, floor plans, roof plans, shut off valves, etc. This critical information is currently provided on the Hazardous Materials Management Plan (HMMP) and/or the Hazardous Materials Inventory Statement (HMIS) as required by Articles 79 and 80 of the Uniform Fire Code. In communities that enforce compliance with these regulations, this is a good start. But the only way to assure that current data is available at the incident scene is through requiring facilities to file the HMMP and HMIS data electronically with the fire departments and local emergency planning agencies. Providing HMMP/HMIS type information in advance allows comprehensive fire department inspections, verification of compliance with fire code storage requirements, and a review of processes that may be flawed in concept and inherently dangerous. When other agencies have a "need to know," having this data in an electronic format allows it to be quickly provided to them. Emergency responders need to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to protecting the public. Americans would be shocked to learn that this critical, lifesaving data is not currently available to firefighters at an incident.
FUNDING AND TRAINING FOR CHEMICAL INCIDENTS
There is a lack of adequate funding for equipment and training for emergency responders throughout the country. Only about one out of three emergency responders has adequate training in this country today. Police do not have even that much. In general, neither firefighters nor the police have all the equipment they need to effectively mount a response. They need to be funded and trained. This war against terrorism will be a long war, and we must prepare as soon and as much as possible.
ALERT SYSTEMS AND CIVIL DEFENSE TRAINING
For almost every area in America, there is no real warning system in place to notify the public in the event of a catastrophic chemical incident, yet telephone ringdown systems and other alert option technologies have existed for years. Even if people were alerted, they have no civil defense training about what to do in the event of a chemical disaster. There should be a coordinated effort to instruct the public about what steps to take, so that they will be prepared. With our mass media, this would be done in a day when we are ready.
LICENSURE OF CHEMICAL TRANSPORT & TRACKING
There should be special background checks for hazmat transportation licensure. Global positioning systems should be utilized to track shipments of large amounts of the most dangerous chemicals.
LICENSURE OF CHEMICAL PURCHASING
There is no licensure requirements involved in purchasing hazardous chemicals. Anyone can purchase them in large quantities, with no security questions asked. This also needs to be addressed. With the modern electronic age, there should be a computerized database that is checked via the FBI.
RMP FACILITIES/RISK REDUCTION
The locations of the thousands of Clean Air Act Section 112r Risk Management (RMP) facilities, what chemicals they have, how long it would take for a worst case scenario release to occur, and much more about each of them has been available on the Internet. One can safely assume that the terrorists have all of this information now. These facilities are very vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It would be far easier for a terrorist to get onsite at these facilities and rupture or explode the tanks at these facilities than to get on a commercial airliner with weapons, hijack the jet, and crash into a target. To be blunt, a terrorist group wanting to kill as many Americans as possible, would simply have to go to the RMP facilities in America's largest cities, and in a coordinated attack, rupture the tanks using explosives or armor-piercing bullets. Within minutes, these tanks would empty and disperse, killing and injuring tens of thousands of people. Buildings close to the ruptured tanks would be infiltrated with lethal levels within minutes. Responders would be overwhelmed.
As quickly and perhaps as quietly as possible, Congress needs to require RMP facilities to reduce the amounts of chemicals stored on-site to far lower levels, or to change chemical processes that require less dangerous chemicals. Providing grants, loans, and special tax exemption and credits to assist in the conversions, along with a mandate, would be appropriate. The FBI should work with facility operators and owners, and through the trade associations and industry councils, to quietly instruct them to reduce their on-site chemical inventories. Again, grant and loan programs may be appropriate to speed this process of risk reduction.
RETASK THE NATIONAL RESPONSE TEAM
It's time to reevaluate what the National Response Team's (NRT) missions should be. The Federal agencies involved with the NRT need to be better coordinated so as to reduce duplication of efforts at all levels. The NRT needs direction and could prove to be a major innovation for this decade by expanding its coordination/action role, provided there is strong congressional oversight and presidential authorities.