CONTINGENCY PLAN FOR HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES
Responsibility for the control of hazardous substances is widely dispersed in Israel. Ten government ministries and over 100 laws and regulations govern the handling of hazardous substances in various sectors. The need for a comprehensive action plan to deal with accidents involving hazardous substances is vital.
Preparations for a system to deal with hazardous substance’s accidents date back to the early 1980s, but recent years have witnessed increased efforts to bring about concrete progress. A study on the preparedness of the Ministry of the Environment to deal with incidents involving hazardous substances was commissioned in January 1993 and soon mushroomed into a wider investigation of countrywide requirements. An interministerial expert team was set up to consolidate the organizational and operational principles needed to guide the multitude of bodies taking part in a hazardous substances incident. The team, comprised of representatives from the police, Home Front Command, fire and rescue services, Magen David Adom
(Israel Red Cross), the Ministry of the Environment and numerous other ministries presented a preliminary plan to the government. The government, in turn, charged the team with establishing a national system for handling incidents involving hazardous substances, determining realms of responsibility and action for each body during an accident, deciding on the resources to be allocated to each body, reviewing legislative changes, and calculating the required operational budget.
On the basis of the government decision, a comprehensive contingency plan was drawn up. Its main objectives: rescue of human life, prevention and reduction of risk to the population and minimization of damage to the environment. The plan delineates the tasks of each of the relevant bodies which are to take part in the treatment of an accident involving hazardous substances, both individually and collectively. Broadly speaking, the Home Front Command (Civil Defense Corps) is responsible for the treatment of incidents involving hazardous materials during emergency or wartime periods; the police is responsible for commanding and coordinating treatment during normal, non-emergency periods; the fire and emergency services are responsible for initial activities at the site of an accident until the arrival of Ministry of the Environment emergency response teams; the response teams are then responsible for detection, monitoring, risk assessment and the transfer of hazardous substances to the Ramat Hovav hazardous waste site.
The system is based on the division of the country into ten central risk areas. In case of an accident involving hazardous substances, immediate response teams are dispatched to the site. The country’s emergency bodies
(police, fire-fighting services and Magen David Adom) are to arrive at the site within ten minutes of notification. The emergency response teams of the Ministry of the Environment must arrive within 30 minutes of notification. The initial tasks include preliminary assessment of the accident, guidelines to the population, detection and identification of the hazardous substances and risk assessment.
In the case of the Ministry of the Environment, the six district offices of the ministry are responsible for accidents occurring in the ten risk areas, as well as for accidents in industrial plants and on roads in the jurisdiction of each district. Each district has a designated response team and a mobile laboratory unit and is aided by local environmental units, all under the professional guidance of the Hazardous Substances Division of the Ministry of the Environment. The response team includes two branches: one responsible for detection and identification, the other for risk assessment. The regional response teams are backed up by a national mobile unit which fulfills such services as response, calibration, equipment supply, maintenance, guidance and field advice to the district response teams and local units. The Ministry of the Environment’s information center on hazardous substances plays an essential role in the system, coordinating among the various response forces, collecting data from the scene and from the Meteorological Service, undertaking risk assessments and providing essential information and analysis services.
The plan delineates five stages of activity which must be undertaken by each of the relevant bodies from preparation to various levels of response to rehabilitation. Preventive activity on the part of organizations, ministries, industrial plants and local authorities is especially significant whether through the enactment and enforcement of legislation, purchase of equipment, or training and drilling of the response forces.
The Hazardous Substances Division of the Ministry of the Environment is allocating major resources toward implementation of the plan. Professional training of some 60 staffers on the national, district and local levels has commenced in order to provide them with emergency response capabilities. Special study days, focusing on both theoretical material, field exercises and simulation techniques, are being held. Mobile laboratory units for each district and for local environmental units in Netanya, Eilat and Petah Tikva have been acquired or ordered. The purchase of protective gear and sophisticated detection and identification instruments is being completed.
Israel’s new contingency plan for minimizing health and environmental risks from accidents involving hazardous materials constitutes a major step forward in this country’s current efforts to improve its management of hazardous substances.