The city of Wilson, North Carolina, has adopted an online reporting system for chemical storage sites that incorporates GIS and provides a more effective and efficient means of updating and retrieving this information.
In the case of hazardous material spills, rapid response is of utmost importance to the teams fielded by local fire and police departments and offices of emergency management. However, current methods for accessing and evaluating chemical storage information and response measures are manual and time-consuming and can delay response efforts.
Facilities covered by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) must report the characteristics and quantities of chemicals stored on-site as well as emergency contact information by the first day of March every year. This information, known as Tier II reporting, is submitted to the State Emergency Response Commission, the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), and the fire department with jurisdiction over the facility.
A majority of states, including North Carolina, rely on a process that is mostly manual. Once information is submitted by the facility, it must be reviewed and filed at the state and county levels. For regions that have many reporting facilities, administrators have reported that it takes as much as six months for Tier II information to be reviewed and filed.
Wilson, recognizing the importance of maintaining and accessing this information, developed a Web-based reporting system in collaboration with Intelligent Decisions Systems (IDSi), Inc., of Fort Lee, New Jersey, that serves first responders, county administrators, and facility submitters.
Typically, chemical inventory records are physically stored by the fire department and LEPCs. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), supplemental forms that contain vital first aid and fire fighting information, are stored in binders at chemical facilities. Collecting chemical storage information scattered at various locations is difficult. Consequently, many first responders report that they do not access Tier II chemical inventory information in emergencies.
Wilson has implemented a system that maintains chemical inventories, site plans, and chemical description information in a central database. In an emergency, first responders can access the most current facility contact, chemical inventory, MSDS, site plan, and other detailed information via a secure Internet connection. The GIS component helps first respondents map the chemical facility and understand its relationship to other critical infrastructure.
The IDSi Tier II Manager was developed using Active Server Pages (ASP) and Esri ArcIMS. It lets chemical storage facilities submit and revise Tier II forms even more frequently than the annual filing that is mandated by EPCRA.
"We selected Esri ArcIMS technology because of the easy development and customization options using Active Server Pages, ColdFusion, Java, JavaServer Pages, and ArcXML," said Will Aycock, GIS co-coordinator for the city of Wilson. ArcIMS provided the flexibility that allowed Wilson to develop additional Web-based applications for other departments that were implementing a citywide enterprise GIS.
When responding to an incident, emergency response planners can immediately access Tier II forms and MSDS through a password-protected Web site using nothing more than a Web browser. Interactive GIS maps generated using ArcIMS are integrated into the application and provide planners with a graphic presentation of the location that helps them analyze the characteristics of the affected facility and the surrounding environment when formulating response strategies.
"With our site, we are able to gain mission critical information for incidents to which we respond in a real time frame. This is going to improve our response ability, thereby making our community safer," said Don Oliver, Wilson's fire chief.
The application is unique in its ability to serve the interests of private chemical companies and public emergency management authorities. Facility information can be easily entered online through a set of secure Web-enabled forms. Because this user-friendly application features easy navigation, drop-down lists, and chemical look-up tables, it encourages facility submitters to keep their data up-to-date. The application is also attractive to facility submitters because it requires no special software. Data, entered once, can be revised as needed and viewed by all authorized bodies. This eliminates the need for sending paper copies to multiple agencies.
"The data is gathered without requiring any additional staff time from our department. The current, up-to-date information is provided by the facilities without having to be reentered by our personnel, reducing the possibility of errors," said Oliver. "[The IDSi Tier II Manager application] provides a more effective and more efficient means to retrieve vital information needed during crucial times in an emergency incident. The application permits us to mitigate an incident more proactively, which translates into increased firefighter safety and reduction in property loss and lessens the economic impact of an event that affects the community and the environment."
Wilson has developed a phased approach for gaining acceptance of the Tier II Manager by chemical facility submitters. The county will accept Tier II information filed as paper copies or online for the next one to two years. During this time, Wilson will hold training classes for facility submitters that will provide hands-on experience with the application. Large companies, such as Merck & Co., Inc., have reacted positively and promptly and are transitioning to the Web-based application. Wilson hopes that soon most of the Tier II management process will be completed using the online system.
"The benefits of this system (when used as a response tool) will greatly enhance our response capabilities," said Gordon Deno, emergency management director for Wilson County. "Responders will be able to access facility information live, online." The application can also be used for training exercises.
A new version of the Tier II Manager was released in June 2003. It adds a billing module, notification system, and functionality that maps vulnerability zones and accesses demographic reports and emergency response planning questionnaire results. A separate customized view has been developed for state authorities.
For more information, contact
Intelligent Decisions Systems, Inc.
Tel.: 201-302-9494, ext. 112
Randy Godwin, Division Chief
Wilson Fire/Rescue Services