DHS S&T helps protect communities from chemical hazards during hurricane season


Extreme weather from hurricanes and tropical storms can devastate communities along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts, and the threat of subsequent hazardous chemical releases can be just as deadly. Damage to physical infrastructure can result in the release of hazardous materials such as ammonia or chlorine from containment, which could pose a serious threat to public health, safety and the environment in the surrounding area. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Branch (S&T) is actively anticipating and preparing for this eventuality.

“As this hurricane season kicks off, we know the National Hurricane Center is forecasting up to 21 named storms and up to three to six major hurricanes. We also know that means our federal emergency response planners, state and local will need actionable information on chemical threats and hazards to be prepared,” said Dr. Shannon Fox, Director of S&T. Chemical Safety Analysis Center (CSAC).

CSAC chemical safety experts provide 24/7 support Technical assistance hotline (410-417-0910) and run critical modeling and analysis on a variety of chemical hazards, vulnerabilities and incidents, including tropical storms, hurricanes and other extreme weather conditions.

With every storm, actionable information about potential chemical hazards must be readily available to emergency planners and first responders in affected areas. It can mean the difference between life and death for people living near industrial facilities or where trucks and rail systems transport chemicals. This is where S&T experts play a vital role in providing science-based chemical hazard analyzes that inform planning and preparedness, and assist in response activities that can save lives.

“Once a hurricane’s path is identified and the hazardous chemicals located in the chemical plants in its path are determined, we determine the likely health risks resulting from a potential release,” said Dr. David Morton, who leads CSAC’s 24/7 response team. . “With this data in hand, we use scenario analysis tools, such as the Chemical Consequence and Threat tool, to determine possible impacts on the public. We receive approximately 70 requests per year, a significant portion during hurricane season, for critical and time-sensitive information to support emergency response efforts.

CSAC takes six key actions to support extreme weather preparedness and resilience:

  1. Quickly gather information about chemical plant infrastructure in the storm’s path. CSAC is collecting information from partners and open source data on chemical facility infrastructure in the tropical storm’s forecast path.
  2. Assess the hazard posed by chemicals held at facilities that may be in the path of the storm. The CSAC evaluates the properties of the chemicals produced and stored by the identified facilities in order to understand all the dangers they present in the event of a release.
  3. Analyze the predicted strength and characteristics of the storm. CSAC uses sophisticated modeling to assess the effects of predicted storm surges and high winds, particularly on power generation, which can pose a serious threat to chemical facility infrastructure and related operations and processes that ensure chemical containment and safety.
  4. Track the storm’s predicted arrival time and assess potential damage. CSAC assesses the storm’s predicted time to make landfall to provide actionable information on the potential impact of damaged chemical facilities.
  5. Stay in close contact with emergency response planners. CSAC works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and specifically FEMA’s Interagency Atmospheric Modeling and Assessment Center, to provide chemical hazard support to national and regional assets in the FEMA.
  6. Provide direct information to people on the ground responding to the storm. CSAC supports National Guard civil support teams for pre-landing field activities and events as they occur during and after storm assessment.

For more information on CSAC’s mission and capabilities, visit: https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/csac.

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