Task force looks at Marcellus emergency response needs

At Monday's meeting of the Elk County Gas Task Force held at the new 911 Center in Ridgway, McKean County Emergency Management Agency Director Bruce Manning gave task force members an update of efforts to educate first responders about natural gas and oil sites. Manning, who is also an adjunct instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, said the Office of the State Fire Commissioner is working to educate emergency responders and others about the Marcellus Shale industry, what type of hazards may be found at drilling sites and how they can more effectively deal with situations that could occur as the industry continues to grow. Some programs already exist, and Manning said the office will receive $750,000 from the impact fee money collected through the state's new natural gas law to continue its education efforts. He said one class that has been offered for about two years is an awareness course that talks about what the Marcellus Shale is, how drilling takes place, site preparation, and the dangers and risks involved in the process."That class is a four-hour class. It's been taught all over the Commonwealth. They're [awareness courses] geared specifically for fire, police and EMS," Manning said. "We also like to have local elected officials come as far as awareness applies so they have some idea about what goes on at these sites. "We talk about all the hazards of a well site and how to keep yourself safe when you get there [in response to an incident]. "It just explains the process, the different hazards they can run into, the problems that may be encountered at the well sites, and a lot of it's terminology. If you don't work in the oil or gas business, there's a whole lot of words you don't understand."Because sites have a number of activities going on, there is a need for diverse forms of emergency response, Manning said. He said scenarios include a possible spill of hydrofracturing fluid used to drill at the site or a leakage of other toxic chemicals, a worker stranded atop a drilling rig that may require people with expertise in high-angle rescue, or the inability to easily locate a person at a remote site, which may call for human trackers using their talents along with GPS. Manning explained that just determining where a site is located is often an issue when it comes to securing help from emergency responders. Large tracts of land in widespread rural areas can make a site difficult to find and out-of-state employees who are not familiar with the area may not be able to accurately describe where they are if they need assistance. "One of the problems we talk about is how to find the well site," Manning said. "These things are out in the woods someplace. Access is part of the problem." He said other programs still in development will allow responders to visit drilling sites to get a better idea of what they are dealing with."This will be the next level up, where people will be able to go to sites and get some hands-on training," Mann said. "They're looking at even more involved classes where they may actually get to a rig and actually do some work, do some high-angle rescue, actually rescue somebody from the top of there. That would be the third level of classes." He said State Fire Commissioner Edward Mann and his office is also reviewing all alternative fuels regarding the involvement of emergency management, including hybrid cars, electric cars, wind generators and solar panels. All of these, he said, can require different actions by emergency management personnel than those taken in more conventional situations they experience.He said emergency management agencies are good resources for drillers to get help with a variety of safety oversight and management needs."One of the primary functions of EMAs is resource management. We're supposed to know where everything is and how to get it," Manning said. "We spend an awful lot of time developing resource manuals on where everything is. We are supposed to know where all of this stuff is, and we do-- and how to get it, how to access it, and where people are-- how to access people we need." He said the Incident Command System (ICS) is constantly updated and that regional emergency personnel have had "a considerable amount of training" with the system, which is a standardized, on-scene and all-hazards incident management approach that makes it easier for numerous agencies to work together and use facilities, equipment and personnel to provide an effective and focused response to a large range of emergency and disaster management needs. "The Northwest Central Regional Task Force, consisting of Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean, and Clarion counties on the task force, we have a lot of assets that we can bring to bear," Manning said.He said those assets include command and communication trailers that can be placed on-site and allow emergency personnel to talk to each other and facilitate communication with other groups involved at any level of response who need to know what's happening. ICS may be used to uplink for telephone, data and videos that may be shared so the response can be as coordinated as possible. "If we have federal assets coming in, if we have state assets coming in, we have ways we can have all those people communicating with each other," Manning said. "Communications-wise, we can allow just about anybody to talk to anybody." Next meetingElk County Gas Task ForceMonday, Aug. 13Courthouse Annex, Conference Room 210 a.m. Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, June 13, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.