Preplanning for Incidents Involving Crude Oil Rail Shipments: Using the Military Planning Model as a Guide

By Jerry Knapp

Just after sunset, you are dispatched for an unknown fire near the railroad tracks. As you leave the station, you see the rising column of black smoke illuminated from within by what appears to be a very large body of pulsating angry fire. While you are sizing up the smoke and are about halfway to the railroad crossing, an explosion occurs and a large mushroom-shaped fireball rises several hundred feet into the cool night air.

On arrival, a police officer flags you down and points toward several wood-frame homes that are burning. Many people are running away with frantic looks on their faces, and traffic is already a nightmare. Your first-in engine drops a large-diameter supply line and cuts off the evacuation route for three residential streets closest to the tracks. You can’t see what the situation is just on the other side of the tracks near the industrial complex, but you can see ahead of you several scattered tank cars and a large pool fire burning furiously around a few of them. A pressure relief valve is releasing burning liquid from the top of one car, which is lying on its side. It is the car closest to you.

At this moment, you wish you had taken the time to prepare a well-coordinated incident action plan (IAP)—something, anything, even the most basic of plans just to get you, the police, and emergency medical services (EMS) units coordinated and collectively started.

The purpose of this article is to provide a proven and widely used planning model, the military decision making process (MDMP), which is a template that contains simple tools and techniques you can use to develop a coherent, thorough plan. It can also be used to preplan large-scale, complex, multiagency, fast developing emergencies such as a crude-by-rail (CBR) incident. This article walks you through the MDMP steps and demonstrates the value of this preplanning methodology. Embedded in the MDMP is a process called” Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield” (IPB), another common military planning tool.

The Threats

Consider the threat: The railroad unit trains are bringing about three million gallons of gasoline-like Bakken crude oil or ethanol through your town several times a day at speeds of 40 miles per hour (mph). Consider the size of the spills. From 2007 to 2014, spills have ranged in size from 10,000 gallons to 1.5 million gallons with the average around 150,000 gallons, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the United States. Will you be ready if it happens in your first-due area?

Planning Tool: Military Decision-Making Process

The U.S. Army training manuals summarize the MDMP process and its value as a planning tool as follows:

Within the operations process, planning is the art and science of understanding a situation, envisioning a desired future, and laying out effective ways of bringing about that future. (Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Unified Land Operations, Oct 11 Para 40)

The staff’s effort during the MDMP focuses on helping the commander to understand the situation, to make decisions, and synchronize those decisions into a fully developed plan or order. (FM 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations May 2014)

The MDMP consists of these steps:

  • Receipt of the mission. You must first understand the specific operation or tasks assigned. You may get a direct tasking from the town supervisor, mayor, or your local emergency planning committee (LEPC); or you, as a fire chief, may have recognized the need to spearhead the planning effort. During this step, you will set time lines for critical phases, meetings, and briefing dates to be completed and a completion date for the overall plan.
  • Mission analysis. As the title implies, analyze the mission. Define the scenario and what (people, facilities, or environment) you expect the incident to threaten and what you plan to do about it. Note that this is a very detailed analysis of assumptions, knowns, unknowns, anticipated scenarios, and what resources it will take to accomplish the mission.
  • Course of action (COA) development. Develop several options available to accomplish the mission.
  • COA analysis. This is where the process gets to be fun; you and your planning team analyze the options using available resources and the objectives you want your plan to achieve.
  • COA comparison. Compare the courses of action and the synchronization of response and supporting agencies.
  • COA approval. Brief your plan to the decision maker or group that will decide which course of action to execute.
  • Order production. Military operations of significant scale require an operations order. In emergency services, we can write an IAP that complies with National Incident Management System (NIMS) guidance. This universal format will be understood by incoming/supporting units, other agencies, and an incident management team (IMT) if your jurisdiction decides or needs to use one to assist in the mitigation of the incident.
  • Rehearsal. This is the practice phase. Units, be they athletic teams or military teams, practice their plans before each event to do all they can to ensure victory. The emergency services game involves life and death for both our members and our customers. We must practice to ensure the players know the plan and can execute their roles and that the plan can be tested and improved. The quality and quantity of your practice will be revealed when “game day” arrives.
  • Execute and assess. After an exercise or actual use of the plan, take an objective look at it; conduct an after-action review (AAR). Look for areas that were successful and need to be sustained and those that need improvement. We do this step in our daily runs; we call them tailboard after-action reviews. Failure can and should be instructive. Always seek ways to improve on the plan.

For military commanders, the result of the MDMP process is writing an operations order and completing the mission, minimizing the losses to friendly forces, and preparing for follow-on actions.

For fire service incident commanders (ICs) and emergency managers, it means maximizing the result—saving lives and property while simultaneously maximizing the safety and effectiveness of all responders through an IAP process. The IAP is done long before the emergency, when we have time to think through and understand the threat and possible actions we can take and evaluate before facing a scenario that is controlling the scene and our actions.

(1) Planning is essential for an effective response to crude-by-rail or other major incidents. <i>(Photos by author.)</i>
(1) Planning is essential for an effective response to crude-by-rail or other major incidents. (Photos by author.)

Planning Scenario

Assume you are planning for a CBR derailment scenario in a populated section of your response area that has resulted in tank cars being impinged on by a pool fire and a running spill fire moving toward nearby structures. This scenario is the most dangerous and complex option.

Keep in mind that a CBR incident will involve risks to civilians and responders, may rapidly increase in size and complexity, and will be a large multiagency event. In short, the scenario will likely develop far too quickly for you to try to play catch-up. It will require extensive command and control and interagency cooperation for success, which necessitates planning.

MDMP Steps

Receipt of the Mission

The mission is to preplan a fast breaking event in your response area to minimize loss of life and property and damage to the environment and to simultaneously maximize the safety of responders.

During this step, you may want to get a jump on the planning process and gather maps, NIMS forms, or whatever you think you may need to plan the mission you have been assigned. You may also gather technical specialists, mutual-aid coordinators, and responding agency leaders and schedule meetings.

Many good maps and aerial photos are available online from your geographic information systems (GIS) or planning department in your town or county. If possible, print out a large map (at least three feet by three feet). Cover the map with acetate so you can “place and replace” units in different courses of action until you reach your final plan (photo 2). Attach small sticky notes or self-adhesive tabs to your map and move them as necessary during the planning meetings as you develop, test, and improve your plan.

The scale of your map will be important for measuring and planning evacuation zones, hoselays, and so on. Using a small piece of acetate (or an old blank overhead projector film), you can make a practical measuring device by marking in straight lines, a circle, or a square of varying distances (photo 3). You can also purchase flexible rulers for measuring distances.

Computers, of course, offer a digital solution. If the technology is available, use it. If you choose the electronic method, you will need a large-screen TV or projector and screen so your entire planning team can see it. You will also need an expert computer operator. The disadvantage of the computer is that it will be time consuming for planners to wait for the computer operator to place and replace fire, police, or EMS units on the map. Google Earth also can be used in the planning process; it includes easy-to-use measuring tools. Consider a combination of electronic and old-fashioned practical methods.

Time and information are key components of this first planning step. Set a milestone schedule for accomplishing the planning process. The leader of your planning team likely will provide the information needed to successfully plan and conduct the response operation.

Mission Analysis

The objective of this step is to understand the purpose of the operation: What must be accomplished, when and where, and why must it be accomplished? During this phase, the threat (spill and fire) is analyzed, its current location is noted, and potential future locations and extension to exposures are projected. Understanding the full scope of the problem is a key step in resolving it. All future planning depends on the success of mission analysis.

Mission analysis involves a detailed analysis that defines the scenario; identifies the expected threats to people, buildings, and the environment; and determines how to protect against or mitigate the threats. It addresses assumptions, the knowns and the unknowns, anticipated scenarios, and the resources it will take to accomplish the mission.

The second step in mission analysis is analyzing the threat. In this case, it is continuing to size up the situation. Necessary intelligence for the fire IC may include the following elements: How many civilians are in need of rescue and relocation? How many exposures are burning? Are additional carloads of product being threatened by the spill fire? Are overhead or buried gas, electric, or water lines impacted by the incident? Will the derailment scenario get worse or better over time (assuming no action is taken)? Is there an adequate water supply?

In military terms, this would be IPB (Perform Initial Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield). IPB is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and operational environment in a specific geographic area. Most intelligence requirements are generated as a result of the IPB process, which consists of four steps:

  • Define the battlefield environment.
  • Describe the battlefield’s effects.
  • Evaluate the threat.
  • Determine the threat courses of action. (Source: Army tactics, techniques, and procedures. Attp 5-0.1 commander and staff officer guide, Sept 2011, page 4)

Planning assumptions include the following: triage, treatment, and transport of victims; evacuation of civilians; burning exposures near the spill site; traffic; and immediate establishment of a unified command structure. Plan for a three-day response event that will present many logistical problems and will necessitate significant mutual aid for fire departments, police departments, and EMS agencies; very high water volumes; and the participation of numerous outside agencies and organizations, including an IMT to provide relief for exhausted local staff.

Knowns include the typical derailment and spill fire scenario (based on previous derailments); fire department capabilities (pump capacities, personnel, and so on); primary and secondary water supplies (districts and static sources); mutual-aid plan and capabilities; evacuation problems and challenges; Class B foam requirements, including the type and amount of foam concentrate, foam appliances, and the ability to flow large quantities of foam (> 1,000 gpm). The scenario will be somewhere along the tracks (railroad right of way); Bakken crude behaves much like gasoline; crude contains varying percentages of benzene, a very powerful carcinogen; heat-induced tears in tank cars release product catastrophically with huge fireballs.

Unknowns include the exact location along the tracks and how many cars are involved; the number and type of exposures impacted by the scenario; and exactly when evacuation will be needed and how extensive it will be.

The planning team is constantly trying to replace assumptions with facts. For example, meeting with your water company and verifying flows from hydrants (fact) you will need replaces the assumption of how much water is available. Assumptions can also be the presupposition of future events (how the spill will react, flow, for example). These assumptions can be improved by examining case histories of similar spills and a close look at the drainage systems and topography around your spill site. While planning an incident in Rockland County, New York, we learned that the entire town was downgrade from the railroad tracks and the spill would likely quickly advance into the town. The result could be a scenario with huge life and property losses. Further complicating the scene are six 138,000-volt electric transmission lines along the track.

Responders’ tasks must be integrated into the overall plan. Classify the tasks as essential (a task that must be executed for plan success), specified (tasks usually related to operations such as laying a large-diameter hoseline from a water source to project potential exposure fires caused by the burning spill), or implied (tasks usually necessary for completing specified tasks such as ensuring that the engine laying the hoseline has hose bridges that will allow vehicles to cross the hose to assist in civilian evacuation).

When a derailment and spill fire occur in or near suburban or urbanized areas, you may be simultaneously faced with five potentially massive essential tasks:

  • Rescue and evacuation: civilians, including nearby homes; schools, daycare centers, and other vulnerable facilities.
  • Collect casualties: triage, treat, and transport.
  • Control fire in exposures: extinguish burning exposures and protect other exposures (limit the spread of the fire). If the spill/pool fire has ignited nearby exposures, coordinate evacuation and fire suppression for the exposed buildings. Where will you draw the line and attempt to stop the fire? Identify any natural fire breaks like highways or rivers. How far into your mutual-aid plan will you have to go to get the needed engines?
  • Cool tank cars impinged on by heat and flames from pool fires. If tank cars containing product are exposed to fire, plan how you will apply water to them (photo 4).
  • Extinguish the fire (foam operation).

The aforementioned task classifications help to keep planners focused on the details necessary for success and to avoid injecting obstacles that may drastically affect the outcome.

A component of the mission analysis is to review assets. Fire departments generally respond to incidents and request additional units after the initial size-up of conditions. During this planning step, analyze your first-due resources (fire, police, and EMS), and determine what actions you may expect from them. Next, consider adding additional resources to the initial alarm. This step will be highly dependent on the availability of resources in your local area. An enhanced first-alarm assignment should result in greater gains overall (lives/property saved).

Often, response times can be important constraints on your planning. In rural areas, response times may be lengthy; tanker operations may take time to set up. In urban areas, analysis of the water supply through hydrants may not supply the fire flow you expect.

Risk management is a critical part of the mission analysis. By now in the planning process, you have identified certain risks. For example, we know that significant amounts of benzene are released from solution in crude oil during a spill and that responders will have to work around the spill site and may be exposed to the benzene, creating an inhalation hazard. Additionally, firefighters and hazmat teams will have to determine evacuation zones for civilians in or downwind of the spill area. To evaluate and mitigate the hazard, a hazmat team can be assigned to monitor air and establish what levels of benzene are present. Firefighters can be ordered to wear self-contained breathing apparatus when working in proximity to the spill. Other standard respiratory protection steps, such as filter canisters, can be used as well.

Another important component of the mission analysis is reconnaissance. For planners, this is a fairly easy task. We can walk the ground where we are planning our response operation. This is often a step we want to jump to immediately because it provides much valuable information about critical items such as life hazard (homes, buildings near the rail line), exposures, expected spill flow, other hazards (overhead electric lines often run along rail lines), and so on. Computer maps, aerial photos, and a site visit with a digital camera are great sources of site information.

The planning process will uncover several problems. Comparing the problem with the desired end state, solutions, or modifications to the current plan will show areas where further effort is needed to arrive at a solution.

(2) Cover the map with clear acetate. Back it with cardboard or foam board, and attach it with clips. Colored sticky tabs can be used to represent fire and police units and can be moved around as your plan develops. (3) A separate overlay of acetate can indicate evacuation zones and provide critical distances based on the scale of your map.
(2) Cover the map with clear acetate. Back it with cardboard or foam board, and attach it with clips. Colored sticky tabs can be used to represent fire and police units and can be moved around as your plan develops.

Mission Analysis Briefing

For the military planners, this is a formal meeting. For emergency planners, it is a continuation of the ongoing planning group process. Essentially, this step is the first draft of the IAP, which is being presented to the group for analysis, input, problem identification, and synchronization of individual operations. For example, without clear orders, the fire department officer may believe his mission is to attempt to extinguish the fire. Although a practical, logical, and possible goal, the planning process has identified that the fire will likely not be able to be controlled with first-due resources, so the best course of action would be to use the fire department personnel to hastily rescue and evacuate endangered residents.

The police department may have similar issues for the mission analysis briefing to resolve. The first-in police commander may think his job is strictly traffic control—again, a logical assumption—but because of the limited number of first-due fire and police personnel, the most effective course of action may be to devote all of them to evacuation and life-saving operations.

This critical step includes the overall intent of the operation; identified problems; a proposed mission statement for all responding agencies; intelligence that is useful to the operation; specified, implied, and essential tasks; pertinent facts and assumptions; any constraints on the operation; available first-due and mutual-aid resources; shortfalls of resources; hazards to responders; mitigation methods; critical information requirements for the command post during the operation; the expected time line for the operation from start to finish; and recommendations for continuing the planning of meetings and rehearsals.

A review of the commander’s intent (overall purpose of the response) is a good closing point for this meeting. The commander’s intent is a clear statement of what all the responding agencies are expected to accomplish. In the emergency services world, it always reverts back to saving lives and property and protecting responders and the environment. This is the mantra responders must remember when the situation gets sporty during the response.

At this point during the planning process, individual units or agencies—fire, police, EMS, Department of Public Works, environmental conservation, utilities, railroad personnel, water department staff—can review and determine how their function (mission) will support the overall objective during this complex multiagency response.

Here again, the emergency response planning process is much more streamlined than the military version. For us, drawing up evaluation criteria for possible actions by fire, police, and EMS is relatively simple: Which option will save the most lives and property and will maintain a reasonable risk to responders’ health and safety? Military planners have acceptable levels of casualties (killed or wounded in action) to achieve a particular objective. Emergency services have an acceptable number of reasonable and manageable risks for responders to achieve an objective. Our acceptable casualty level is zero.

Course of Action (COA) Development

Develop several of the options available to accomplish the mission. It is now time to start assigning responding units and the missions they must accomplish to support the overall success of the response operation. Mission statements are a short sentence or paragraph that clearly states the action to be taken and the reason for it.

What is a COA? According to the Army’s Commander and Staff Officer Guide, “A course of action (COA) is a broad potential solution to an identified problem. During COA development, planners use the problem statement, mission statement, commander’s intent, planning guidance, and the various knowledge products developed during mission analysis.” (pages 4-15)

The Guide lists criteria used to evaluate the COAs, and each prospective COA is examined for validity using the following screening criteria.

  • Feasible: The COA can accomplish the mission within the established time, space, and resource limitations.
  • Acceptable: The COA must balance cost and risk with the advantage gained.
  • Suitable: The COA can accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent and planning guidance.
  • Distinguishable: Each COA must differ significantly from the others (such as scheme of maneuver, lines of effort, phasing, day or night operations, use of the reserve, and task organization).
  • Complete: Each COA must show how the decisive operation accomplishes the mission, how shaping operations creates and preserves conditions for success, how sustaining operations enable shaping and decisive operations, how to account for decisive action tasks, and tasks to be performed and conditions to be achieved.

Course of Action Analysis

As noted, this is where you and your planning team analyze the different courses of action possible based on the available resources and the objectives you want to achieve. War gaming (see below) each possible COA tests the validity and value of each possible course identified.

The goal of evaluating several possible courses of action is to ensure the maximum result (lives/property saved) is achieved with the limited personnel on the first-alarm assignment; the COA fits in with the overall proposed plan; and the COA and actions by one unit or agency do not adversely affect the actions of other units or the overall mission.

A simple way to evaluate and display your COA is to place your first-alarm assignment on the acetate-covered board using sticky notes or document tabs. Dry erase markers can be used for hoseline identification, command post locations, traffic control points, and so on. Color coding these additions also is helpful.

Another aid is to make a label for each of your incoming resources and place the labels on the side of the map. Put them in place as you answer questions such the following: What do we want Engines 1, 2, and 3 to do? Where do we want the first-due battalion chief? How soon can we expect to establish a unified command post with police and EMS? Start with broad tasks such as apply 1,000 gpm on exposed structures; then follow up with the details of which engine is at the hydrant, type of hoselays, and so on.

Planning for your entire district can be overwhelming because too many variables are in the planning mix. You can limit the planning scope by using two terms the military often uses in planning. The first, area of interest, is equivalent to the fire service’s entire first due-area or fire district. This includes areas where your operation will have an effect—traffic, long-term shelter locations, for example. The other military term, area of operation, is equivalent to the fire service’s immediate area where your units will be operating.

To limit the scale of your planning on the map, use a piece of acetate (an old overhead slide works well) with a 2,000-foot square on it. From the center of this square, your area of operation will be 1,000 feet either way. If you plan operations within this box, the basic and critical work will be done for you; you can modify it on the fly on the scene. A thousand feet in either direction allows one basic plan to cover a total of 2,000 feet, which is almost half a mile of rail corridor. If you find that your district changes drastically (rural to suburban or urban), you may have to limit your planning areas of operation.

You can also streamline the process by assuming (after you have surveyed your engine companies) that each engine has at least 1,000 feet of large-diameter hose and can pump 1,000 gpm. If you get an extra couple of hundred gpm, all the better. A good planning figure is the rule of 1,000s.

The objectives of your planning effort are to ensure the best use of your first-due resources, to synchronize operations with police and EMS with the ultimate goal to get the most lives and property saved, and to simultaneously provide for the safety of all responders. In military jargon, this is called a “force multiplier.” The additional benefit of your planning effort and subsequent effective operation will be to pave the way to quickly and efficiently deploy and support incoming mutual-aid units.

Now you have a draft plan for individual agencies. Will it work? Is it synchronized? What problems will you encounter during the execution of your plan? Have you omitted anything? How do you practice? The COA analysis lets you identify problems, coordination issues (does your first LDH supply line block roads, prevent civilian self-evacuation, and prevent EMS access to the casualty collection point?) and does your plan achieve what you want or expect it to? Do you have significant shortfalls of personnel, equipment, or other key supporting tasks (long-term shelter operations for evacuees whose homes were destroyed) to support your first-due resources? Will you have to modify and improve your initial plan? COA analysis is a process of action, reaction, and counteraction.

(3) A separate overlay of acetate can indicate evacuation zones and provide critical distances based on the scale of your map.
(3) A separate overlay of acetate can indicate evacuation zones and provide critical distances based on the scale of your map.

COA Comparison and Approval

As a result of war gaming possible plans, essentially playing out (in detail) the different possible plans, you can compare and determine which is most effective and practical. Brief the results of this comparison to the decision maker—maybe the fire chief, emergency planner, or planning committee—for approval of the best course.

War Gaming. War gaming involves visualizing the flow of your plan. You have the scenario and lists of first-due units, and you understand the scene (topography, surrounding occupancies, exposures, water supply) and scenario. War gaming will help you see unforeseen actions, reactions, and the dynamics of your plan and operation. War gaming is especially helpful because this may be the first time in your planning process that all participants have a common operating or shared vision of the total response operation.

A good way to break down this process is to limit participants’ discussions to windows of time. For example: What do we expect (have planned) to happen from dispatch to 15 minutes into the operation? The general responsibilities of the units are discussed, and the details are presented. This discussion brings out the strengths and weaknesses of the plan.

A key product of war gaming is the coordination needed to produce a synchronized effort. For example, if firefighters are bringing civilian casualties to a central preidentified location, the police have an implied task to ensure a clear route in and out for ambulances.

War gaming can also identify events that will occur during the operation for which you are preparing. Example: Press and supporting agencies will converge on the area quickly.

A more tactical example may be the limit of your available water from your hydrant system. The domestic water system is designed and built for everyday use by customers and an overflow capacity for typical size (fires) and fire department use. Consider that if you are flowing 2,000 gpm, it is a pretty sizable fire. When you pull several thousand gpm from the system for several hours, the storage tanks that normally meet the domestic flow requirements and a surge requirement will not be able to be replenished faster than your demand. You likely will run out of hydrant water. Obviously, it is crucial to identify this factor during the planning process. Preplanning and war gaming prevent or at least minimize the effects and shock value.

Another significant effort you may have to plan for is evacuation. Planning for this type of event, assuming an evacuation population of 200 to 300 persons, you will need an immediate site and a long-term site. The immediate site is just out of the danger zone where folks can drive or walk (run) just to get out of danger. This can also be a reunification site where parents meet up with children or other family members who may have been separated when the disaster started. It is a very short-term operation.

If home or apartment exposures in your area were significantly damaged or destroyed, residents would need long-term shelter—obviously, a huge time- and personnel-consuming effort that you will need to assign to an appropriate agency. Possibly your Parks Department can handle the short-term portion, and the Red Cross can assist with long-term requirements. You need to have a shelter plan, facilities, and staff. The point is that you just cannot ignore it; include it in your plan for follow-on units and agencies.

The war gaming portion of the planning process helps to identify the additional resources you will need from each agency:

  • Multiple casualties mean a casualty collection, triage, treatment, and transport area; additional paramedics and ambulances; and possibly a number of fatalities.
  • Traffic control will require additional police. If they are coming from outside of your jurisdiction, they will need a common radio frequency, a chain of command, directions to their post, and a short briefing (task and purpose) before they can be effectively deployed.
  • Follow on mutual-aid fire units will need specific information before they lay their large-diameter hoselines and begin to flow water. Locations to start hoselays, water sources, common radio channels, and common hose fittings will have to be worked out. As more lines are laid, hose bridges or means for emergency response vehicles and civilian vehicles to traverse these lines will be essential.

The result of war gaming should be improvements to your original plan.

As your planning process continues and on-scene equipment and personnel grow, so does the logistical support. This is not a house fire that will be over in two to three hours; plan for the operation to go on for three days. If it is over before then, you will still have a reserve component to count on. Logistical considerations include rotating personnel, food and beverages for responders, rehabilitation sites, medical support for responders, fuel for apparatus, and breakdown maintenance and replacement vehicles for those damaged or inoperable.

If the incident is of sufficient scale and IMTs are available in your area, call them early on. Often, an incident like this affects local responders who live in or around the area of the disaster. Turning the operation over to an IMT for an operational period will give your physically and mentally exhausted IC a well-deserved break to assist family and friends.

For emergency services operations, our enemy (in this case, the crude oil derailment scenario) does not change unpredictably (we can assume the scenario will not change in ways we cannot predict; if it does, we can plan for them as worst-case scenarios). This makes analysis of our plan much easier. The challenge is to ensure our operation is coordinated with assisting agencies (police and EMS) and plans for massive expansion of the operation as the incident grows or begins as a complex incident. Compare the courses of action; synchronize fire, police, EMS, and supporting agencies.

(4) Cooling tank cars to prevent heat-induced tears (boiling-liquid, expanding vapor explosions without shrapnel) with massive product release requires many resources and many gallons per minute of water.
(4) Cooling tank cars to prevent heat-induced tears (boiling-liquid, expanding vapor explosions without shrapnel) with massive product release requires many resources and many gallons per minute of water.

Order Production

Military operations of significant scale require an operations order. In emergency services, we can write an IAP that complies with the NIMS. This universal format will be understood by incoming units, other agencies, and an IMT if your jurisdiction decides or needs to use one to assist in the mitigation of the incident.


This is the practice phase. Sports teams and military teams practice their plays before each game or operation to ensure victory. The emergency services game involves life and death for our members and our customers. We must practice to ensure the players know and can execute their roles and that your plan can be tested and improved. This can be done through exercises. The quality and quantity of your practice will depend on how well first-due and mutual-aid units and assisting agencies perform on game day.

Execute and Assess

After the exercise or actual use of the plan, conduct an AAR; identify the successful elements and those that need improvement.

Course of Action Approval

Brief your plan to the decision maker or group that will decide which course of action to execute.

Now you have the planning tools that will serve you, your organization, and your public should a potentially devastating CBR or other large-scale incident strike your community. A mission without a strategy is just wishful thinking that may cost lives and cause unnecessary liability. A structured, proven, and effective planning process like MDMP brings the future into the present so that you’re positioned to do something about it now. As a leader and respected member of your community, can you afford not to plan? Lives may depend on your decision.

Aurthor’s note: Thanks to Dr. Christopher Hennen, emergency planner, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, for his assistance with this article.


FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, May 2014.

Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Unified Land Operations, OCT 11 PARA 40.

“Army tactics, techniques, and procedures 5-0.1,” Commander and Staff Officer Guide, Sept 2011.

JERRY KNAPP is a 39-year veteran firefighter/EMT with the West Haverstraw (NY) Fire Department and a training officer at the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona, New York. He is a member of the technical panel for the Underwriters Laboratories research on interior and exterior fire attack at residential fires. He is the chief of the Rockland County (NY) Hazmat Task Force and a former nationally certified paramedic. He has a degree in fire protection and is an adjunct professor of fire technology. He authored the Fire Attack chapter in Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II and has had numerous articles published in Fire Engineering.

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Bakken Crude Oil Shipment

Bakken crude oil is shipped by rail from North Dakota easterly generally through Chicago, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; to Albany, New York, where the train turns south and proceeds on to refineries in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and other points south. A typical unit train consists of about 100 tank cars, each containing 30,000 gallons of flammable product. Unit trains are kept as one unit from their origin to their destination. They are not broken up at rail yards like other freight trains. A unit train may contain as much as three million gallons. Consider a spill fire from just one car load, 30,000 gallons. Is your department prepared to deal with a spill fire of this magnitude?

Further complicating the problem is that many sections of the route go through suburban or urban settings with occupied residences or manufacturing sites very near, often on both sides of the tracks. It is likely the spill and fire will be bigger than your department is capable of mitigating. It will not start off small and grow slowly, providing time for you to react. It can be an event that will instantly be more complex, bigger, faster, and deadly than anything a fire department typically plans or trains for. Planning is essential.

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