NEW LINCs TO SAFETY
by Merrill Douglas
; Government Technology Magazine
8:00 a.m. January 15, 2003 PDT
Seattle demonstrates a local version of a federal system to map the spread of hazardous materials.
[Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the e11th hour editorial staff.]
WO YEARS AGO
, Timothy Croll felt, as he describes it, "a blinding light" erupt in his mind. Touring Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) with other local government officials, he saw a powerful technology for mapping the spread of dangerous materials in the atmosphere. If a terrorist attack or an accident released toxins back home in Seattle, he realized, this suite of tools could save lives.
Croll is community services director at Seattle Public Utilities, the agency that runs Seattle's water, sewer, drainage and solid waste services. As a member of the Environment Task Force of Public Technology Inc., he was visiting LLNL to learn about a broad spectrum of technologies available there. Croll and his colleagues were particularly impressed with the lab's National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC). The technologies there help emergency responders determine where a hazardous plume will spread given the local terrain and current weather conditions, and how best to protect people in that area.
Croll had used modeling software to design responses to accidental chlorine leaks from the city's water treatment facilities, but he'd never seen capabilities like NARAC's. "I felt like I had stepped from a tricycle to a Ferrari," he said.
Soon, safety officials in Seattle and other cities will get to take a spin in that Ferrari. Today, NARAC helps federal facilities and emergency workers plan responses to radiological, chemical and biological releases. A new demonstration program, called Local Integration of the NARAC with Cities, or LINC, will put NARAC's power into the hands of local agencies.
Seattle is the first pilot site for LINC, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Chemical and Biological National Security Program (CBNSP), working in partnership with PTI and LLNL. Officially, LINC focuses on chemical or biological materials released in terrorist attacks, but NARAC's system could help local agencies respond to accidents as well, Croll pointed out.
The NARAC system has two components: a local software package called iClient (Internet Client), and a central system at the lab in Livermore, Calif. Local responders use iClient to enter basic information about an incident, such as the material involved and the location. The software immediately maps the plume and returns advice on how to respond.
"They have the capability to run a quick, simple model of what the downwind hazard areas might be," explained John Nasstrom, a deputy program administrator at LLNL. "At the same time, they can reach back to our more powerful computers in Livermore. They can do more detailed, three-dimensional atmospheric transport, including terrain effects. Those are returned in about five to 10 minutes."
NARAC's system does more than predict how a plume will spread. "It also talks about the impact," Croll explained. "There would be a map that would say that in these neighborhoods, with these bounding streets, the odds are you're dead already. If you're in these other bounding streets, stay inside and shut your windows."
With real-time meteorological data in the mix, city officials who planned to evacuate people to another part of the city would know for sure that the plume wasn't heading toward that area.
"Within about five minutes, a local responder has information about whether you ought to shelter in place, whether you ought to start evacuation processes," said Ronda Mosely-Rovi, director of environmental programs at PTI.
Like responders in many other cities, the HAZMAT team at the Seattle Fire Department currently uses software called CAMEO, which stands for Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations, to help it respond to chemical accidents. Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, CAMEO includes an extensive database of chemicals and their properties, along with tools for modeling and mapping their dispersion.
The group that developed CAMEO is based in Seattle, and officials from NARAC have been talking with them about cooperating on the LINC pilot. "We're starting a dialog with them on how we can make best use of both systems, since the CAMEO system is used by a lot of HAZMAT teams," Nasstrom said. CAMEO's chemical database would complement NARAC's other strengths.
NARAC's system already includes links to meteorological stations across the United States, as well as local map data for the entire country. But to configure it for use by cities and counties, the system needs to integrate more detailed geographic data from local agencies.
"In the case of Seattle, we're working with their GIS group to import all the city map data they routinely use for emergency management," Nasstrom said.
Additionally, NARAC is incorporating feeds from more Seattle-area meteorological stations, as well as local databases that pinpoint where chemicals are stored in certain buildings.
NARAC is also working with firefighters in Seattle's HAZMAT unit to make sure the software interface is easy to use, Croll said.
Once the partners configure a version of the system for Seattle, they will run drills to show how NARAC responds when users enter data on hypothetical emergencies, Mosely-Rovi said.
The central system at NARAC can provide automated feedback. If need be, live operators can also assist local responders. Seattle will test both scenarios and might also simulate an off-hours emergency, Croll said. In the latter case, NARAC's operators would be paged and asked to rush to the lab to help emergency workers in the field.
The LINC program has received $750,000 from CBNSP. None of this funding goes directly to Seattle. The city receives in-kind support, such as training for its emergency workers. It is also supporting some of the program costs on its own, including hosting meetings and sending its emergency workers to Livermore for additional training.
PTI and LLNL are applying for further funds; they would like to extend the program for three years and bring it to other cities, Mosely-Rovi said. The partners hope to conduct some pilots in cities that are smaller than Seattle and less technically advanced.
"The next city will probably be medium-sized, and then we'll do a small city. The learning curve will be different in each one," she said.
In every case, the prospect for local agencies and their partners is exciting, Mosely-Rovi said. "I'm absolutely convinced that we're onto something really big here and it's going to save lives."<<
Merrill Douglas is a freelance writer based in upstate New York. She specializes in applications of information technology.
Article copyright © Merrill Douglas; Government Technology Magazine; all rights reserved
| r e a d i n g |
Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States; Kathleen J. Tierney, Michael K. Lindell, Ronald W. Perry; ISBN: 0309069998
Disaster Response: GIS for Public Safety; Gary Amdahl; ISBN: 1879102889
A Framework for Survival: Health, Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance in Conflicts and Disasters;Kevin M. Cahill, Kofi A. Annan; ISBN: 0415922356
Response to Disaster; Henry W. Fischer; ISBN: 0761811834
Response to Disaster: Psychosocial, Community, and Ecological Approaches (Series in Clinical and Community Psychology); Richard Gist, Bernard Lubin; ISBN: 0876309996
Psychological Assessment of Adult Posttraumatic States (Psychotherapy Practitioner Resource Book); John Briere; ISBN: 1557984034
Environmental Disaster and the Archaeology of Human Response (Anthropological Papers (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology), No. 7,); Garth Bawden, Richard Reycraft; ISBN: 0912535148
Preparing for Terrorism: An Emergency Services Guide; George Buck; ISBN: 0827383975
The EMS Incident Management System: Operations for Mass Casualty and High Impact Incidents; Hank T. Christen, Paul M. Maniscalco; ISBN: 0893039721
Weapons of Mass Destruction: Emergency Care; Robert A. De Lorenzo, Robert S. Porter; ISBN: 0130139238
Understanding Terrorism and Managing the Consequences; Paul M. Maniscalco, Hank T. Christen; ISBN: 0130212296
Business Handbook on Terrorism, Security and Survival: A Proactive Guide for Personal Security in Today's Business Environment; Gerry S. Thomas; ISBN: 0964057018
Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States (Natural Hazards and Disasters); Dennis S. Mileti; ISBN: 0309063604
Disasters and Democracy: The Politics of Extreme Natural Events; Rutherford H. Platt, Miriam Gradie Anderson, Alexandra D. Dawson, Beth O'Donnell, David Scherf; ISBN: 1559636963
Normal Accidents; Charles Perrow; ISBN: 0691004129
Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response Compliance Manual (38-M); Dolly Miller; ISBN: 0934674868
Transportation Disaster Response Handbook; Jay Levinson, Hayim Granot; ISBN: 0124454860
Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Research and Development to Improve Civilian Medical Response; National Research Council; ISBN: 0309061954
21st Century Bioterrorism and Germ WeaponsU.S. Army Field Manual for the Treatment of Biological Warfare Agent Casualties (Anthrax, Smallpox, Plague, Viral Fevers, Toxins, Delivery Methods, Detection, Symptoms, Treatment, Equipment); Department of Defense; ISBN: 1931828105
Jane's Chem-Bio Handbook; Frederick R. Sidell; ISBN: 0710619235
First Responder Chem-Bio Handbook; Ben N. Venzke; ISBN: 096654370X
Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response; The Sphere Project; ISBN: 0855984627
Shared Risk: Complex Systems in Seismic Response; Louise K. Comfort; ISBN: 0080432115
Hard Choices; Jonathan Moore; ISBN: 0847690318
Humanitarian Crises: The Medical and Public Health Response; Jennifer Leaning, Susan M. Briggs, Lincoln C. Chen; ISBN: 0674155157
| u s e n e tg r o u p s |
| w e b s i t e s |
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Rapid Response Information System (FEMA)
Mobile Emergency Response Support (FEMA)
American Red Cross
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Association of Contingency Planners
Disaster Recovery Information Exchange
Natural Hazards Center
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
EM-DAT: OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters)
The World Disasters Report (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)
Billion Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters, 1980-2001 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Extreme Weather Sourcebook 2001: Economic and Other Societal Impacts Related to Hurricanes, Floods, Tornadoes, Lightning, and Other U.S. Weather Phenomena (University of Colorado Boulder; NCAR, NOAA, USWRP, NSF, AMF)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Contingency Planning & Management Magazine
Disaster Recovery Journal
(*see our resource directory for add'l resources)