Learning from emergency response in the process industries - issue 262

Issue Number: 262


The purpose of emergency response is to prevent and reduce further damage to the operators of hazardous sites and the surrounding population. However, it is well known that there are many accidents in which the emergency response was deficient for various reasons. For example, the Texas City Disaster in 1947 resulted in 500 fatalities and over 3500 injuries and destroyed neighbouring businesses and industrial sites. The West Fertilizer disaster of April 2013 in West, Texas, USA was among the most recent examples of an emergency response failure. Also, the Tianjin port fire and explosion in 2015 resulted in 165 fatalities, the majority of them firefighters, police officers and 55 civilians. However, it is not only the chemical industry to have experienced large losses during intervention activity — the grave consequences of the Chernobyl accident included the immediate deaths of 28 first responders and firefighters from acute radiation sickness in 1986, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 also resulted in severe loss. The Buncefield accident in 2005 caused water pollution because the tertiary containment as the last line of defence was insufficient to prevent the fire water run off during the emergency response activities.
The aim of the paper is to present cases where emergency response failed and provide key learning points for future improvement. The study also shows the common causes, contributing factors and potential lessons learned from these accidents. It even identifies critical areas where failure can drastically destabilise effective planning and execution of emergency response. Studying these failures can make a significant contribution to improving emergency preparedness and reducing the severity of consequences resulting from a poor emergency response.
These findings could help operators of industrial sites and the emergency response community to assess and recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their own preparedness and response plans. Implementing these lessons may contribute significantly to improving emergency preparedness and response.

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