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Benner’s Behavior Model in the Modern Era (D.E.C.I.D.E.)

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March 24, 2022
Jon Simpson, Manager Hazardous Materials, Norfolk Southern Corporation

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” -Albert Einstein

Chances are, if you have been in any discipline or position that requires emergency response to hazardous materials, you are familiar with the name Ludwig Benner. Mr. Benner was a chemical engineer by trade who spent over three decades investigating accidents with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and focused extensively on hazmat transportation and equipment engineering. At one point, he and the NTSB did a risk analysis study and concluded emergency responders on a hazmat response had a 10,000 times greater chance of death or injury than anyone else. This was a catalyst for Benner to develop a decision model many are familiar with, D.E.C.I.D.E. He wanted to change the paradigm of attack and extinguish and give responders a tool using the D.E.C.I.D.E. acronym. The purpose was to get ahead of the curve by using key critical decision-making points. Its use is widely known and serves as a useful template across all hazmat response. In addition, and perhaps lesser known, he created a General Hazardous Behavior Model (GEBMO); its creation gives us a model of how every failure of a hazmat container unfolds. Each component or event of the modeling has a subset of categories describing how that event can behave. Based on Mr. Benner’s engineering background and backed by numerous case studies the model is focused on very predictable science. This gives responders something absolute in what can be a very dynamic environment.  It is here we will focus as we look at several technologies and tools available on the modern fireground.  With the resources many now have on hand, using those tools by viewing them through the lens of GEBMO will provide efficiency and better understanding of how they all work together to create a reduction in harm.         

In an admittedly brief overview of Benner’s model, the idea is to understand where in an incident you are, what conditions have occurred, what is occurring and what can be expected to occur WITHOUT INTERVENTION. By looking at the 6 events within the model a responder can determine where to intervene achieving the best result and if unable, predicting what is likely to come next which allows for redundancy future planning.  Fortunately, the response world has benefited from technology advances that make GEBMO even more reliable than ever.

The first event is a stressing event. All containers have some ability to absorb stress (mechanical, thermal, chemical) but when that failure point is met, we reach our second event, the breach. These unwanted openings can occur one of five ways all with varying degrees of potential energy. That brings us to the third event, the release, the escape of the product (and energy) from the container. The critical point to consider here is the speed of the release and how rapid the potential energy is converted to kinetic increasing the likelihood of harm. Fourth, once we have a release the product (and possibly container) they will follow predictable dispersion patterns known as engulfment. This can be influenced by air currents, weather, and responders. Typically, these engulfments follow one of 8 shapes invariably leading us to the 5th event, impingement. This is the actual contact the material or product makes with life, critical infrastructure, property and environment. This is expressed in contact time and what occurs from that impingement is final event, the harm; the damage to an object that has been exposed to the material.

Given the predictable nature of GEBMO, there are several proverbial tools in the toolbox of the 21st century responder.  Probably one the shows the most potential and popularity is drones. The ability to see three-dimensional real-time footage of the stress event, the aerial view of an engulfment event and real time video of who or what may be compromised by the impingement are a tremendous value alone. But with the addition of thermal imaging and air monitoring capabilities on some drones that have been shown to have success, we now can better predict the timing of the breach and get early indications of the release. Remote air monitoring has given responders a huge advantage as a force multiplier in the battle of engulfment awareness. No longer is air monitoring labor intensive and logistically tough because multiple products are now available that allow remote sensing with real time data fed to a single point for rapid analysis and response.  Some carry on-board weather stations and even versions of plume modeling within their software for quicker decisions about who will be affected or where impingements may occur.  This segues into continued improvements in computer software and mobile device technologies. ALOHA 5.4.7 and MARPLOT 5.1.1 line up perfectly as tools for predictive plume modeling and identification of threatened populations in relation to prevailing winds, topography, and transportation corridors in a community. ASKRAIL® now has integrated initial isolation and downwind modeling inside the Emergency Response Guidebook portion of a researched car.  This free application, at hand in a mobile device, and along with the description of the product, specification marks of the cars, can give responders several early clues to plug in to the GEBMO process.  In addition, electronic consists carried by train crews are speeding up the potential to get real time information into responder’s hands to supplement hard copy consists. Quicker knowledge of a load or residue car, product recognition and adjacent cars acting as impinged elements can help make quick decisions about reducing compounding problems early. Community notification systems sent via social media and texts are a huge advancement versus the reality of notifications during GEBMOs early days. Officials can now predict the engulfment, look at impingement potential and avoid the harm. Finally, there have been huge advances in augmented and virtual reality training programs and equipment for responders to experience scene assessments of stressed containers with predictable breaches. Fundamental classroom knowledge with regards to container anatomy and design coupled with these training techniques allow young responders a chance to form a risk/benefit foundation about where to “pull the domino” in future events to decrease the chance for further harm and do it safely.

While this was only a macro view of Mr. Benner’s General Behavior Model of Containers, there is still a chance for some fundamental takeaways. Competition for funds in the public response arena is tight.  Jurisdictions often are asked to do more with less. When writing for grants, consider where in Mr. Benner’s model your equipment can impact a scene and what transportations risks are relevant in your community. Looking to the past for a modality to respond in a dynamic new world on hazardous materials related events will serve all stakeholders well. Indeed, so much is accomplished by first understanding the problem and never have we had more tools to do so, thus giving us quicker solutions.

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