The Canadian Minister of Transport announced the creation of the Emergency Response Task Force under the Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate (TDG Directorate) on April 23, 2014, to work on strengthening emergency response capacity across the country. The Task Force’s primary focus was the transportation of flammable liquids by rail. Its primary objective is to improve public safety at dangerous goods incidents involving flammable liquids transported by rail.

The March 4, 2015, chemical fire at DP World’s Centerm container terminal in Port Metro Vancouver burned for over 30 hours. The incident highlights the fact that there are other types of risk in Canada’s busiest port in the heart of a large urban area. Similar rail cargoes movements move daily moving through the Halifax, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian cities with intermodal facilities.  This type of fire could have happened in any city with a container terminal, or along the rail corridors that serve Canada’s trade gateways. K. Joseph Spears and Darryl Anderson assert in the March 16, 2015, Canadian Sailings article that the Port Metro Vancouver fire showed that response to a dangerous goods incident is always local.

In the maritime sector, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code) regulates the marine transport of dangerous goods. The code sets the standards for labeling, packaging and documentation for hazardous and noxious substances. This international regime is based on a system that relies on shippers to accurately provide detailed information on what cargo is contained in the shipping container.

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services working in conjunction with other first responders, the private sector, and Port Metro Vancouver did a tremendous job in extinguishing the fire. Apparently the ongoing training in the port of Vancouver for the marine response for hazardous and noxious substances commonly known as HNS paid off in this case.

This incident demonstrated that a robust dangerous goods response require a team effort. The complexity of an incident involving this single 20-foot container could have been much more severe depending on the volume of cargo, cargo mix, the location of the incident and capacity of first responders and weather conditions. As it was, over 2.5 million gallons of water was used to cool the container and adjacent stack of containers that reached temperatures above 1000°C.

The marine sector is not the only transport mode where a team response is required. In northern Ontario, there has been three oil by rail derailments since the start of 2015 along a section of the rail line near Sudbury. In addition to response, the issue of who pays – liability and compensation for the transport of dangerous goods has received increased attention.

To maintain this world-class response, we need sustained funding for public safety and the need for training, exercises and more importantly advance notice of dangerous cargoes so that first responders around Canada’s ports and transport corridor communities can take a proactive planning and response management approach. A robust marine response capability creates supply chain resiliency and strengthens our economy. It is a essential component of protecting our critical international trade infrastructure in Canada. This is especially so when containerized cargoes serve as a essential component of the just-in-time inventory system.

World-class means the ability to look at incidents in a critical fashion. The review process started by Canada’s minister of transport in June 2014 under the Canada Transportation Act is a excellent venue for considering what measures may be needed at the federal level, which has important impacts on the Canadian economy. These lessons from recent incidents involving rail and marine can be incorporated into dangerous goods emergency procedures so that future response can be improved and communications issues resolved. At the municipal level besides practicing incident response proactive and integrated assessments of industrial land use and the transportation of dangerous goods risks and the use of best practices may also be warranted. We will be a stronger country for it.

View a case study on industrial land use evaluation and transportation risks that Wave Point Consulting team members and Associates have completed. Read our Georgia Straigharticle on marine response to dangerous goods.