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Emergency Response Flying High

Emergency Response Flying High

Date Published: 29-Nov-16

ChemCentre’s capabilities were put to the test in a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) emergency response exercise initiated by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services this month. The HAZMAT exercise was designed to test the feasibility of using air transport to reduce the response time in life-threatening situations in semi-remote areas. ChemCentre Emergency Response manager Dr Steven Wilkinson said the scenario involved an unknown chemical contamination at a regional location over an hour’s drive from Perth.
“In ideal traffic conditions, the travel time from ChemCentre to the site would be one hour, 22 minutes,” Steve said. “The exercise involved travelling to the site by helicopter and carefully logging all times so we could determine if time really could be saved using air travel.

“We also had to test whether it was actually feasible to use a helicopter. We didn’t know if there would be enough space for the people and equipment needed, nor where it could land. There were a lot of unknowns – things we would need to know for certain in an emergency.”

Chemcentre was notified of the exercise an hour before it was conducted, giving an added ‘real-life’ edge to the situation.

“Curtin University was very cooperative and made an oval near ChemCentre available for the helicopter to land,” Steve said. “Curtin security guards cleared the area and ensured people stayed off the oval during the exercise, ensuring it could be conducted safely.

“We were able to successfully load all the people and equipment needed into the helicopter and the DFES analysis of the exercise showed it reduced the time taken from notification to product identification from seven hours and two minutes to two hours and one minute – a saving of five hours and one minute.

“That time could be the difference between life and death,” Steve said. “So, air transport clearly is an option worth pursuing for some emergency response situations.”

The DFES analysis indicates that for incidents within a 400km radius of Perth, air transport would significantly reduce response times and would be within the fuel range of the helicopter. For incidents between 400km and 800 km, the helicopter would need to be able to refuel at the incident site.

“The exercise was very successful in proving that air transport could be a feasible option in some situations,” Steve said. “We now need to set in place the appropriate protocols so that we can quickly organise the deployment, landing and departure of the helicopter in an emergency.”

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