Hazmat/WMD emergency response: NFPA 472 as a tool for compliance

By Steve Patrick and Ed Allen
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

The growing threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as hazardous materials (hazmat) both as weapons and in criminal activities, has significantly altered the traditional philosophies of hazmat emergency response for the law enforcement community. In addition, the development of various tactical and operational procedures to meet the anticipated demands created by these response scenarios has blurred the classical distinction between offensive and defensive response operations that have constituted the cornerstones of national hazmat operations standards since the 1980s.

First of all, what is the difference between a hazmat and WMD incident? From a health and safety perspective, little disparity exists. Hazardous materials can be any matter (solid, liquid, gas, or energy) that, when released, can harm people, property, or the environment. Weapons of mass destruction, as defined by Title 18 of the U.S. Code, describe the same materials and effects but in measurable quantities. The difference lies in the events leading to the release: whether it was an accident or done with criminal intent. So, while the events that precede this type of incident may vary, the actions that responders take may very well be the same.

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