Agri-retailers reach out to emergency response contractors to fill the ERAP resource gap.
It was a tense four months. That’s the time it took for Terri Hamilton, service manager for Blair’s Family of Companies, to build and implement the company’s Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) for anhydrous ammonia, after their supplier announced it was withdrawing its support service.
Until that time, the supplier had provided its ERAP support system as a service to Blair’s, in the event of a transportation accident involving anhydrous ammonia. Hamilton says withdrawal of this service was something of a shock.
“It gave us all a heart attack,” says Hamilton. “You cannot sell nor distribute anhydrous ammonia without a valid ERAP – period. When they decided not to offer this service, it was a very stressful time trying to figure out what we should do.”
Unfortunately, this occurrence was not an industry anomaly. Over the past decade, many fertilizer suppliers and manufacturers have been discontinuing this (largely free) service, leaving distributors and agri-retailers with little choice but to invest in an ERAP of their own.
The paperwork involved with implementing a Transport Canada-approved ERAP for anhydrous ammonia for her company filled a three-inch binder, says Hamilton, and came at the cost of hours of phone calls, days of information gathering and months of work.
However, the emergency response team was going to be a tougher problem to solve. At that time, there were no emergency response contractors capable of responding to such an incident in Saskatchewan, and using in-house resources for the 24/7 support system required by an ERAP simply wasn’t feasible.
“When you set up an ERAP, you either have to be accountable yourself to deal with any emergencies that arise, or you have to be affiliated with someone who can. We did look at doing our own, but the costs and training needed were too great a hurdle,” says Hamilton.
She then focused on out-of-province companies contracting emergency response support specific to anhydrous ammonia. The closest emergency response teams would have been deployed from Edmonton or Winnipeg, which was too far from Blair’s seven southern Saskatchewan locations for an effective and timely incident response.
“The response times for those teams would have been in excess of seven to 10 hours,” she says. “If there was a real emergency, this would be unacceptable.”
Running out of options, Hamilton contacted Envirotec Services Inc., an environmental and industrial solutions company located in Saskatchewan. Responding to Blair’s request and several other agri-retailers in need of support services, they began training to provide a 24-hour emergency response support system for independent companies handling and transporting anhydrous ammonia in Saskatchewan.
“For a yearly fee, they are on call 24 hours for all of our locations that deal with anhydrous ammonia, in case of an emergency deemed severe enough to set the ERAP in motion,” says Hamilton. “Once that phone call is placed to them, they help us contain or shut off whatever leak is happening.”
The Right Stuff
Envirotec is a TEAP III (Transportation Emergency Assistance Program)-certified member of the Canadian Emergency Response Contractors’ Alliance (CERCA), an industry association of stakeholders from all facets of the Canadian dangerous goods emergency response industry.
CERCA identifies British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan/Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and Newfoundland as the seven contractor regions in Canada. CERCA-verified members can be found across these seven regions, providing technical expertise and emergency response contractors from coast to coast. CERCA’s website, cerca-aceiu.ca, provides a list of all verified members.
Emergency response contractors offer a number of services, usually including the following:
- 24-hour emergency telephone service;
- Guidance and advice;
- Drafting of ERAP, emergency response or incident action plans on behalf of their clients;
- Filing ERAPs with Transport Canada on behalf of their clients;
- Providing emergency response teams, equipment, and specialized training for dangerous goods incident response.
“You either have to be accountable yourself to deal with any emergencies that arise, or you have to be affiliated with someone who can.” – Terri Hamilton
According to Transport Canada, ERAP plans supplement those of the carrier and local and provincial authorities, and must be integrated with other organizations to help mitigate the consequences of an accident. Emergency response contractors fit into this larger co-ordinated response.
The incident command system is one where multiple authorities and response organizations are integrated into a common organizational structure designed to improve emergency response operations. The incident commander has overall responsibility for the emergency response and is usually a senior member of the local fire or police department.
“The emergency response contractor is going to be working for, and with, the incident command,” says Shaune Zeleny, director of projects and specialized services at Envirotec. “There is the incident command set-up with the section chiefs, including operations, planning, logistics and finances, if required. Typically the emergency response contractor would fill the role of operations and planning.”
“They would write up an incident action plan (IAP), which would state objectives, strategies and tactics as to how the scene would be mitigated and remediated, and that IAP would be signed off by the incident command,” he says “IAPs are completed at the start of each operational period.”
The IAP provides crucial information during an incident involving dangerous goods. It outlines how resources from local operators and the emergency response teams they’ve selected to respond on their behalf are mobilized, all in an effort to ensure the protection of people, property and the environment.
Specialized training and preparedness are necessary for emergency response teams. In addition to classroom sessions and field drills, Envirotec holds an annual live product training exercise in the spring to uphold the highest levels of training in dealing with anhydrous spills. To keep emergency responders and equipment in top condition, there is more training in the fall, as well as a review of standard operating guidelines.
For those fertilizer suppliers looking for ERAP support, CERCA-verified emergency response contractors are stepping in and filling the support gap. “If you hire a CERCA contractor that is verified by TEAP III, you’re securing a contractor held to the highest standards surrounding emergency response,” says Zeleny.
If it’s not feasible for an agri-retailer to provide in-house resources for emergency response to an incident involving dangerous goods, enlisting the help of an emergency response contractor may be the only viable option.
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