FEMA Offers Grants for Preparedness Programs

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides both state and local governments the opportunity for preparedness program funding through its federal grant programs. These non-disaster grants are offered to enhance the capacity of state and local emergency responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from a weapons of mass destruction terrorism incident involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive devices and cyber-attacks. There are currently eight different grant programs offered by FEMA, in addition to its Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

One of the requirements emergency organizations must meet in order to qualify for federal grant funding is they must have adopted the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS is a comprehensive, nationwide systematic approach to incident management. The system uses a core set of doctrine, concepts, principles, terminology and organizational processes for all hazards and offers standardized resource management procedures for coordination among different jurisdictions and organizations. 

NIMS is based on creating a proactive system that assists emergency responders during incidents or events and focuses on five key components:

  • Preparedness
  • Communications and Information Management
  • Resource Management
  • Command and Management
  • Ongoing Management and Maintenance

 By offering a universally consistent and flexible national framework, NIMS provides a way in which government and private entities at all levels can work together to manage domestic incidents, whatever the cause, size, location or complexity.


Emergency Film Group’s NIMS: Introduction to the National Incident Management System DVD provides NIMS video training describing response protocols for hazardous materials, terrorist, and other major incidents. Focus is on the Incident Command System. To learn more, read here. . .

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Terrorism Fears Keep Public in Dark to Explosive Chemical Storage in Their Communities

A recent one month investigation by the Associated Press (AP) found that fears of terrorism has made it extremely difficult for the public to find out what type of hazardous materials are being stored in their neighborhoods. In many communities, both the public and emergency workers have no idea that potentially explosive chemicals are being stored there.

The explosion at the West, TX fertilizer plant that occurred in April is a perfect example of this issue. After a fire broke out at the plant, there was a tremendous explosion, caused by ammonium nitrate, which was stored at the plant. Despite the known dangers of the chemical, the majority of the people in West, including the town’s EMS director, had no idea that ammonium nitrate was being stored at that facility.

Aftermath of West, TX fertilizer plant explosion. Aftermath of West, TX fertilizer plant explosion.

But as the AP reports, there are hundreds of facilities, just like the West Fertilizer Co., sitting in the midst of schools, businesses, hospitals and residential neighborhoods. How many is unknown. When the AP made nationwide inquiries, 28 states responded, providing a count of over 120 facilities that are located in areas that put the public at serious risk. The other 22 states refused to provide the information.

Anyone located within a quarter to a half mile of a facility where an explosion occurs is at risk. Debris from the West explosion was found almost two miles away. Based on the information that was provided, more than 600,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of a facility, are living in a potential blast zone if as little as 190 tons of ammonium nitrate is detonated.

Some of the states that refused to provide the requested information cited the risk of terrorist attacks and their interpretations of federal law as the reason why. Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho and South Carolina were included in that group. West Virginia told the news organization they could either review the paper records in person, or request the records individually.

Statistically, however, Americans are more likely to be hurt from chemical or industrial accidents, such as the explosion in West, than from terrorist attacks, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.

Emergency Film Group’s Protective Actions: Evacuation/Shelter in Place DVD teaches organization how to organize and carry out an emergency evacuation plan. This informative training video training program is for emergency response personnel - incident commanders, police officers, emergency management personnel, National Guard troops, hazmat teams, firefighters, security personnel, dispatchers, emergency operations center personnel - and others who might be involved in ordering or carrying out protective actions. To learn more, read here. . .



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Possible Security Breach at Quabbin Reservoir

Massachusetts State Police say they are increasing routine patrols at water supply facilities around the state after a possible security breach incident at the Quabbin Reservoir near Belchertown, which is the primary drinking water source for Boston and forty other communities.

At approximately 12:30 am Tuesday, a trooper saw two cars parked at one of the reservoir park entrances and then noticed a group of people, five men and two women, walking towards the vehicles. When questioned, the male individuals said they were chemical engineers and had recently graduated from college. The group claimed to be at the reservoir for educational purposes and career interests.

The seven people were from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore and had addresses in Amherst, Cambridge, Sunderland, Northampton, and New York City. State Police provided the Commonwealth Fusion Center the identities of the group and details of the incident. The Commonwealth Fusion Center works with local, state and federal public safety agencies and private sector organizations in collecting, analyzing and distributing intelligence relevant to terrorism and public safety.


Quabbin Reservoir Quabbin Reservoir is the primary drinking water source for Boston and forty other communities.


A preliminary background check revealed no warrants, detainers or advisories for anyone in the group and they were allowed to leave after being cited for trespassing. In a statement to the press, State Police spokesperson David Procopio said both his agency will continue to investigate the incident.  “Further investigation is being undertaken because of the late hour when they were observed, their curious explanation for why they wanted to see the reservoir, and the fact that they were in an area marked no trespassing,” Procopio said.

Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Biological Weapons DVD training program provides training and response guidelines to emergency personnel who would be called upon to respond to a terrorist incident involving biological agents. To learn more, read here. . .


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U.S. Forest Service Bracing for Bad Year of Wildfires

The Unites States Forest Services is bracing for another bad year of wildfires. Areas most at risk include Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, the eastern Rockies and Florida. Persistent drought conditions and infestations of the tree-killing bark beetle have left the nation’s woodlands at high risk. The agency is also struggling with cuts to its fire-fighting budget.

Last year was the third most-active wildfire season since 1960, with more than 9.3 million acres of public and private land burned. The Forest Service spent $1.4 billion in fire-fighting cost and predicts the same activity this season.

Fires burn hotter and faster than they did a decade ago, attributed to warmer and drier weather. Last year was the warmest on record for the country. Warmer weather brings drier vegetation, which fuels the fires, causing them to spread much quicker. The warm weather extends wildfire seasons by 60-70 days a year.

Another threat is the infestation of bark beetles, which have invaded an estimated 46 million acres in the western part of the country, creating highly flammable stands of dead trees.

The American Red Cross has announced a new iPhone/Android app for wildfires. According to the app description, “Blaze Warnings let you see where NOAA has issued wildfire warnings, Blaze Alerts notifies you when a new wildfire occurs and the Blaze Path Tracker gives you a current view of the wildfire's track and perimeter. You can also let loved ones know that you are safe even if the power is out and learn what steps you should take to prepare your family, home and pets – all from the palm of your hand.” T receive a link to download the app, dial **REDCROSS (**73327677) from your mobile phone. The app can also be found at iTunes or Google Play app stores.

Emergency Film Group’s Wildland Firefighter 2 offers a unique delivery platform and wildland fire qualification system unmatched by any other wildland training program. To learn more, read here. . .

Wildfire The U.S. Forest Service is bracing for another bad year of wildfires.
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Boston Marathon Bombings Raises New Concerns of "Dirty Bombs"

In the hours and days that followed the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies asked members of the public to contact them with any photos or videos taken during the event that could have held clues to the identities of the people who had placed the bombs. Several photographs taken by an anonymous photographer showed men dressed in dark blue jackets and tan pants, moving throughout the bombing site. Some of these men were in the photographs were carrying large black backpacks. The photographs went viral throughout the internet and many people thought these were the suspects. It turns out, however, that these men were actually members of a National Guard Civil Support Team (CST), pre-scheduled to be at the event.  

CST officers at Boston Marathon Photos of what many people thought were pictures of the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing.


CSTs are the National Guard’s full-time response force for emergencies or terrorist events involving weapons of mass destruction, toxic chemicals, or natural disasters. CSTs are routinely pre-staged at large public events, like the Boston Marathon, to help reduce the risks and assist civilian authorities. There is a very real threat of terrorists adding chemical, biological or nuclear materials in their improvised explosive devices (IED) – referred to as a “dirty bomb”.

One photograph shows a CST holding a radiation monitoring device in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. During a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence which took place a week after the bombing, Subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY) asked Richard Daddario, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism to explain a possible scenario had the Boston bombing suspects used dirty bombs in their terrorist acts.  Daddario replied, “If a dirty bomb were to go off in Boston, there would be a large area that would be contaminated for a substantial period of would shut down all economic activity in that area, chase residents out of the area for substantial periods of time until there could be a cleanup, [and] there would be mass panic.”

CST officer measuring radiation A CST holding a radiation monitoring device at bombing site.

Heightened concerns over the possibility of more acts of domestic terrorism only re-enforce how critical it is that emergency responders and public safety officials are fully trained on how to effectively handle an attack. Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Explosive & Incendiary Weapons and Terrorism: Biological Weapons DVD training films both provide the essential training in the event a terrorism crisis occurs.

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Massive Explosion at West,Texas Fertilizer Plant

A massive explosion at a West, TX fertilizer plant has left almost 200 people injured and at least 5 to 15 people dead. Officials fear the number of fatalities will rise, as many people are unaccounted for, including several firefighters who were fighting a fire at the plant when the explosion occurred. The city’s EMS director, Dr. George Smith, confirmed the deaths of two EMS workers and said that three to five firefighters and a police officer were reported missing.

The blast occurred at 7:50 p.m. and registered as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event, according to the United States Geological Survey. One city councilor reported that the four block area around the explosion's epicenter was “totally decimated.” Fifty to 75 houses were destroyed, an apartment complex with about 50 units, that was reduced to "a skeleton," a middle school and a nursing home. Many witnesses compared the scene to that of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The materials made at the plant were similar to the materials used to fuel the bomb that blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

West, TX explosion Texas explosion registered on Richter Scale.

Firefighters had been called to the West Fertilizer Company plant earlier to put out a small fire. The explosion occurred as they were fighting the fire. Officials are still investigating to determine if the chemicals at the plant, including ammonium nitrate, caused the explosions.

Ammonium nitrate is a commonly manufactured fertilizer, with nitrogen making up about one-third of this chemical compound. It’s very popular as a plant fertilizer because of its solubility in soil, allowing the nitrate to move deep into the root zone under wet conditions. Ammonium nitrate is sensitive to heat and pressure which can lead to an explosion.

Another concern to authorities is the potential of exposure to anhydrous ammonia, a toxic gas that is also used as a fertilizer. West Fertilizer Co. reported it has 54,000 pounds of the chemical at the plant.

Anhydrous ammonia gas is dangerous. Upon inhalation, throat passages and lungs swell, leading to hoarseness, hardening of the respiratory tract, and in sufficient concentrations – suffocation and death. Contact with eyes can cause visual impairment. Ingestion can result in liver malfunction and coma. Although anhydrous ammonia is classified as a non-flammable gas, it can ignite with explosive force when mixed with air in the right concentration.

This explosion comes almost 66 years to the day of another massive explosion that occurred in Texas City. On April 16, 1947, the French vessel SS Grandcamp, docked at the Texas City port when a fire broke out, detonating 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate. The explosions killed almost 600 people and left thousands injured.

Emergency Film Group’s Inorganic Oxidizers DVD is one of the DVDs of the HazChem Series. This informative DVD provides training to emergency response personnel who may be called upon to respond to a leak, spill or a fire involving ammonium nitrate, calcium hypochlorite or nitric acid. Another program in the series, Anhydrous Ammonia, discusses response issues for this dangerous gas. To learn more, read here. . .


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Boston Marathon Bombing: Act of Terrorism

The excitement and anticipation radiating at the Boston Marathon finish line was shattered by two powerful bomb explosions that were detonated within seconds of each other. The blasts killed three people, including an 8 year-old boy, and have left more than 150 people injured, many of the victims suffering from traumatic amputations and head trauma.

The first blast occurred at 2:50 p.m., approximately two hours after the first runners had crossed the finish line. The second explosion went off twelve seconds later and approximately 100 yards away from the first. The timing of the blasts, in the fourth hour of the race, is typically when the finish line is at its most crowded, with many of the competing recreational runners finishing the race, to the cheers of family and friends who gather in that area to greet them.

Witnesses recounted panic and confusion after the first explosion went off. But within moments, emergency responders, including police officers and firefighters, began tearing down temporary metal fencing to get to the victims, as broken glass from building windows showered onto the street. The medical tent set up for exhausted and dehydrated runners quickly became a triage tent for the dozens of critically injured victims.

The FBI is heading the investigation, along with the Massachusetts State Police, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As of this posting, no one had claimed responsibility for the bombings. However, news media is reporting that a Saudi national, in the country on a student visa, is being questioned. The man was observed running away from the area after the blasts and was tackled by a bystander. The man is currently hospitalized with burn injuries. FBI and Homeland Security agents searched the man’s apartment, located just outside of Boston, in the suburb of Revere. Agents removed brown papers bags, trash bags and a duffel bag, as well as other items.

The AP is quoting a law enforcement official source who said that the bombs were made by putting explosives in a metal pressure cooker, also filled with anti-personnel packing, including BB’s, ball bearings and nails. Several doctors involved with treating victims of the bombings reported that many of the injured had multiple pieces of shrapnel embedded into their bodies.

The White House said the bombings are being treated as an act of terrorism. In a statement, President Obama said, “We still don't know who did this or why. Make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this.”


Video of the Boston Marathon bomb explosions provided by the Boston Globe.


Boston Marathon bombing Rescue workers and victims shortly after bombs exploded at Boston Marathon.


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Active Shooter: Rapid Response

The tragic events in Newtown, CT are, sadly, another reminder of just how vulnerable we are to these kinds of attacks in our communities. The massacre in Newtown is the third active shooter incident at a school in 2012. In February, a 17-year-old Chardon, Ohio high school student murdered three students who were sitting in the school’s cafeteria. In April, a former nursing student opened fire at Oikos University in East Oakland, CA, killing seven people.

Schools, malls, movie theaters – places that are part of our everyday lives, our children’s lives – have proven to be easily accessible to assailants with an agenda. Nowhere are we truly safe anymore. A community’s preparedness and organization when a mass shooting occurs is essential to the least number of causalities possible.

In the spring of 2009, the community of Martha’s Vineyard came together to participate in a training film, titled Active Shooter: Rapid Response. The film, designed for law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, emergency management, facilities and others who may become involved with a mass shooting incident, brought together almost eighty people, including students, teachers, law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel from all over the island. A good portion of the filming was done on location at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

It was the Virginia Tech massacre that inspired us to create the film. Having family members who were graduates of the school, we took a special interest in the tragedy. We saw that the school was not prepared to deal with an incident like that and we expected that this was true of schools around the country.

Emergency Film Group has been producing emergency response training films for 30 years and began this project just as we do all our projects - by hiring a committee of subject matter experts to guide them in developing the script. And the community’s endorsement of the project contributed greatly to the film’s success.

Active Shooter: Rapid Response covers the key topics in preparing for and responding to a mass shooting. The film also offers guidance for school officials and emergency operation centers. Organizations of all kinds, in 39 states and abroad, are using the film to prepare - often showing the film to start an exercise involving schools and the emergency response community. To learn more, read here. . .


Active Shooter: Rapid Response Emergency Film Group produced 'Active Shooter: Rapid Response' as a resource for both school administrators and law enforcement.
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Train Accidents Can be Toxic

According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, there were 7,232 train accidents between the years of 2009 and 2012. Causes of these accidents include derailments, collisions, accidents at railroad grade crossings and obstructions. In most incidents, the damage caused by the accident is minor. But a derailed train can pose serious health or environmental problems when tank cars filled with dangerous substances are ruptured, burn, or the contents spilled.

Recently, a derailed train in Paulsboro, N.J. caused the evacuation of 50 homes and sent more than 40 people to the hospital, complaining of breathing problems. The freight train, with two locomotives, 82 freight cars and a caboose, derailed on an old-style swing bridge that apparently buckled and sent four of the tank cars in a creek below, leaving  other cars dangling off the bridge.

One of the cars in the water was carrying ethanol. The three others were carrying vinyl chloride, a flammable liquid. The crash tore open a 1-by-3-foot hole in one of them. At 400 ppm in air, vinyl chloride can cause breathing problems and dizziness. At 12000 ppm those exposed for as little as ten minutes could experience life threatening health effects. The Lower flammable Limit for vinyl chloride is 3800 ppm. Hundreds of responders were needed to clean up the accident site.

In another recent incident, responders in Wayne Township, PA, were notified of a possible hazardous chemical spill from a five car train derailment. One of the cars contained isobutylene, a flammable gas.  Isobutylene is easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames capable of forming explosive mixtures with air. Vapors are initially heavier than air and can spread along the ground, possibly causing dizziness or asphyxiation without warning. There was no release or spill from any of the cars, and no injuries reported for the train crew or emergency responders.

Every community needs to have a plan for these types of incidents. Emergency Film Group has developed the Protective Actions: Evacuation/Shelter In Place training program for emergency response personnel: incident commanders, police officers, emergency management personnel, National Guard troops, hazmat teams, firefighters, security personnel, dispatchers, emergency operations center personnel, and others who might be involved in ordering or carrying out protective actions. To learn more, read here. . .


Derailed train A derailed train can pose serious health or environmental problems when tank cars filled with dangerous substances are ruptured, burn, or the contents spilled.
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