Recognizing the additional level of dangerous chemical hazards brought on by storm-damaged infrastructure could cause, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is providing a 24/7 hotline to address a variety of threats and how they could impact vulnerabilities.
Run by the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC), this hotline is a technical assistance reference point — a means of providing modeling and analysis of various chemical hazards, vulnerabilities, and events such as tropical storms, hurricanes, and other forms of severe weather. A hurricane along the Gulf Coast could, for example, damage infrastructure and lead to leakage of toxic substances like chlorine or ammonia into the air and water.
“Emergency response decision-makers need critical information about chemical hazards in order to keep their communities safe,” Dr. Shannon Fox, director of CSAC, said. “Using science-based chemical threat and hazard analysis, CSAC stands ready to assist emergency planning, preparedness, and response efforts during natural and human-induced disasters.”
In addition to a hotline, CSAC — the nation’s only federal lab for analyzing large-scale chemical threats or chemical terrorism — offers actionable information about potential chemical hazards for emergency planners and first responders. This can be about life and death for many: CSAC reports that more than 14 million people along the Gulf Coast and more than 32 million people along the Atlantic Coast are frequently under threat from tropical storms and hurricanes, and that frequency is increasing. This includes residential areas near industrial facilities or through which chemical-bearing trucks and rail systems pass.
CSAC specifically cited an incident in August 2020, during which Hurricane Laura ignited a chlorine leak at a BioLab facility near Lake Charles, Louisiana.
During such events, CSAC works to gather information on chemical facility infrastructure in any storm’s path using data from partners and open sources and assess the danger posed by any chemical held within those facilities. The organization uses modeling to analyze storms’ characteristics, including when they will hit and how much damage they will wreak. CSAC works with emergency response planners to support their response and provides direct information to responders in the field during storms.