Edited Version November 1, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"CHER-CAP -- Comprehensive Hazmat Emergency Response Capabilities Assessment Program"

Catherine Pomerantz
FEMA, Region III.

Amy Sebring, Moderator
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the November1, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom! Our topic today is the Comprehensive Hazmat Emergency Response Capabilities Assessment Program, CHER-CAP for short. Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/001101.htm>. There you can find links to articles about the CHER-CAP program, photos from the Lehigh County Hazmat exercise, and bio for today's speaker.

We are very pleased to welcome Catherine Pomerantz, Technological Hazards Program Specialist for FEMA Region III. Catherine is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and has been with FEMA over three years. She previously worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in hazardous waste management.

We also are pleased to have with us in the audience today John Conklin, Emergency Management Coordinator and Chris Post, Communication Coordinator - Radio/CAD for the Lehigh County Emergency Management Agency. Welcome to all of you and Catherine, will you start us off now, please.


Catherine Pomerantz: Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's session. Today I will talk about a FEMA program that has recently gone national.

The Comprehensive HAZMAT Emergency Response-Capabilities Assessment Program (CHER-CAP) was developed in FEMA Region VI and has been so successful that it was expanded to a national program this year. FEMA believes that communities must be better prepared for the accidents resulting from technological hazards as well as natural disasters. All communities face HAZMAT risks. FEMA offers CHER-CAP as a voluntary, comprehensive preparedness effort to address HAZMAT accidents or intentional incidents.

CHER-CAP is being offered to assist local communities in improving their HAZMAT emergency response capabilities. CHER-CAP uses the skills and resources of local, State, Tribal and Federal Governments and industry to identify and address local jurisdictions' needs. It enhances a community's ability to operate within the National Response System as described in the National Contingency Plan. FEMA's experience shows that jurisdictions significantly improve their HAZMAT and all-hazards preparedness as a result of CHER-CAP.

CHER-CAP also assists jurisdictions in identifying ways HAZMAT prevention and mitigation measures can be implemented to reduce HAZMAT emergencies and protect the public.

CHER-CAP involves the commitment of people from responder agencies at the local, State, Tribal and Federal Government levels and industry. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation are key Federal partners in CHER-CAP.

CHER-CAP is conducted in phases spanning four to six months. Communities interested in participating should contact their county or state emergency management agency. The State selects jurisdictions for participation and forwards the nomination to FEMA.

To qualify for selection, a jurisdiction must have, at a minimum:

1. An active LEPC with an emergency response plan;

2. A commitment to participate by a local industry partner in the jurisdiction; and,

3. The commitment and involvement of a key first responder agency in the jurisdiction to take the community lead.

Information gathered during CHER-CAP includes: the LEPC plan; existing mutual aid agreements; agency-specific standard operating procedures; existing data on hazardous substances in the community; documentation regarding training previously undertaken; and training needs.

Most CHER-CAP initiatives eventually include fire, police, emergency medical services, public works, health and environmental agencies, public officials, and hospitals, in addition to industry. After discussions of the plan and SOP review, communities then choose to implement any suggested modifications they deem appropriate. The full-scale exercise scenario and staging considerations are developed with the LEPC and other participating entities as a part of the training so that agencies prepare to test and demonstrate their skills in the final no-fault, full-scale exercise.

The final phase of CHER-CAP, a full-scale HAZMAT exercise, is staged with "live" props, such as tanker trucks, railcars, or fixed facilities, with simulated smoke and leaking (dyed water) liquid and simulated casualties. CHER-CAP exercises involve a mass casualty scenario. As such, they also can be used to test the community's ability during the first critical hours to respond to a terrorist incident. The CHER-CAP exercise, typically involving 100 to 300 participants, is tailored to the specific HAZMAT risks the community confronts.

Peer evaluators observe the exercise and record their observations. The evaluation is based on the objective criteria outlined in FEMA's HAZMAT Exercise Evaluation Supplement. The exercise takes approximately four hours followed by a post exercise analysis. A report is compiled from the information submitted by the peer evaluators. The report is submitted to the participants of the exercise. They may choose to implement the recommendations, as they deem appropriate for the community.

FEMA encourages local jurisdictions and industry to work together toward being better prepared for HAZMAT and all-hazards risks that we may confront in the 21st century. For more information regarding CHER-CAP, please contact your FEMA regional office or State emergency management agency.

FEMA Region III held its first CHER-CAP program in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Meetings in the community began in late May. Partnerships were developed with local and county agencies, local businesses, volunteer organizations, and federal agencies. Meetings were held with most of the players. Policies, SOP's, SOG's and procedures were discussed. Ideas and information were exchanged. An exercise scenario was developed from the input of the individual playing agencies. An extent of play meeting with the players was held to finalize the scenario. A number of mini-drills/exercises were carried out in preparation for the last phase of the program, a final comprehensive exercise. In the set up phase of one of the scheduled mini-drills an actual HAZMAT incident occurred.

Peer evaluators were chosen for their areas and level of expertise. Police evaluators evaluated police actions, fire evaluators evaluated fire response, etc. For this particular exercise we had an employee who was shot that was the initiating action triggering the HAZMAT incident. An evaluators meeting and a safety meeting were held the evening before the exercise.

The day of the exercise started at about 7AM with the moulaging of our victims and setting up of the scene. At approximately 9AM a call was made reporting a shooting which resulted in a HAZMAT accident. Once the call was made players responded and assumed their respective roles and responsibilities. The exercise was concluded at approximately 11:30 AM.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Catherine. We now invite your questions/comments. John and/or Chris, if you would like to add your comments regarding the experience with CHER-CAP, we encourage you to do so.


John Conklin: Highly recommend for local jurisdictions, but expect four months of solid planning and coordinating.


Chris Waters: Catherine might want to discuss the funding.

Catherine Pomerantz: Funding is passed through the state emergency management agency.


Bill Radcliff: I am interested in hearing from John and Chris on some of the positive results from the CHER-CAP process.

John Conklin: The most positive result was the decon capabilities, both from a training and equipment basis for the 4 hospitals who played. With the recent focus on WMD and contaminated victims and walk-ins, our area is much better prepared now as a result of this program.

Chris Post: I feel the CHER-CAP was an all over well rounded learning experience. I echo what John said. Also we got our RACES group involved and they had a lot of good feedback.


Isabel McCurdy: Catherine, I am a Canadian and who could I contact to obtain more information regarding CHER-CAP?

Catherine Pomerantz: You can contact me at 215-931-5610 or <[email protected]>.


Bruce Hess: Were amateur radio operators e.g. RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) involved? They are willing to participate but it is hard to find good scripting in a compressed exercise as described.

Chris Post: Yes, RACES was involved. If you need more info regarding RACES in a Hazmat, feel free to contact me at 610-782-3073.


Chris Waters: There is considerable expense to the local community in time and effort I understand. I was under the impression there was only $6K available and that other monies could be used through EPA but were far short of the total.

John Conklin: Yes, FEMA was wonderful in getting funding for some props and expendable equipment to the tune of $7K. However, that did not cover OT for PD, city FD and fixed facility employee costs.

Catherine Pomerantz: Funding from FEMA is passed through the state emergency management agency. There may be opportunities to use grant money from EPA and/or DOT. You will still have to meet the grant criteria for the programs specific to EPA or DOT. If the exercise incorporates a terrorism component, money from that program may be able to be used. The key thing to remember is that the exercise is developed with significant input from the players. The exercise/extent of play can be specific to the needs of the individual community


David Goldbloom-Helz: In the CHER-CAP process (all the meetings and preparation) as a whole for Lehigh County, what were the keys to success and possible pitfalls of the process?

Catherine Pomerantz: The key to the success of the program in Lehigh County rested with John Conklin and his staff. They did an incredible amount of coordination. In addition to the county EMA, the community players were cooperative and willing to cooperate with the entire process.

John Conklin: Initially, getting all the players involved and explaining how they could benefit was tasking. Once they were part of the planning process as Catherine explained, we tailored the exercise design to accommodate them i.e. the shot person became a fatality to exercise the Coroner's office in evidence collection in a Hazmat environment It also brought in local PD to interact with Hazmat personnel in the UCS to see how that would work also


Sue Duffey: Catherine, I am an American Red Cross Emergency Services Director. Has it been determined what our role might be?

Catherine Pomerantz: The Red Cross has been involved in CHER-CAP. They participate by providing support for the exercise .

John Conklin: We actually had the local chapter building in the plume pathway, which necessitated the evacuation of their building. We also had ARC open a shelter and demonstrate management of the shelter. The ARC was tasked with considering what they would do if a contaminated walk-in came to their shelter. Finally, the ARC provided a mass feeding to the players and evaluators after the exercise, roughly 150-200 people.


Amy Sebring: Catherine, how is the whole CHER-CAP process facilitated?

Catherine Pomerantz: FEMA contacts the states. The states nominate communities to FEMA. Each region has different goals. In Region III this year we want to initiate CHER-CAP in every state.

Amy Sebring: You mentioned the active involvement of John and his staff, but is there state and federal involvement in the planning as well?

Catherine Pomerantz: The first thing I generally do is meet with the LEPC and then the individual first responder agencies. The process is coordinated through the state office of emergency management. They are welcome to participate as much as they can or want to. I coordinate with EPA and they are actively involved in the Region III program. Other agencies would be welcome to join. Preliminary discussions in one state may lead to more federal agencies playing based upon the proposed exercise they have in mind.


Bill Radcliff: What problems did you have getting the private sector (i.e. hospitals and industry) involved and how did you overcome these problems?

Catherine Pomerantz: John did the initial contacts with the hospitals. When I met with them for the first time at least someone had bought the idea of CHER-CAP as being good for them. In a few instances we had to identify the risks to the hospitals of a contaminated walk in closing down the ER. This helped bring home how a Hazmat incident in the community could have a significant effect on hospital operations.

John Conklin: The local chemical company was very much concerned about negative publicity due to the fact that the recent fatal explosion at Concept Sciences occurred roughly 1 mile away. We stressed that this type of exercise could bring nothing but a proactive spin to their preparedness and willingness to work with local emergency services.


Chris Waters: Is a copy of the "lessons learned" available (for Chris Post). Also I understand that there were two separate jurisdictions participating. How did the interaction go and who assumed IC and then where did the second agency fall in?

Chris Post: We haven't received the final "lessons learned" but I imagine when it is available, it wouldn't be a problem.

Catherine Pomerantz: A report has not been completed for this exercise as of yet. SOP's were followed on the day of the exercise.

Chris Post: I think John can answer the second half better.

Chris Waters: I understand that Allentown and Lehigh county participated. How did that work?

John Conklin: Initial IC went to the City of Bethlehem and progressed to UCS (Unified Command System) which included the County and City of Allentown HMRT. This was the first time all three Hazmat teams worked together.


Ray Pena: Is CHER-CAP intended for communities that don't already have active Hazmat preparedness programs? With the exception of federal agency involvement we already do all of these things.

Catherine Pomerantz: CHER-CAP is for communities that want to be prepared for Hazmat incidents and want to test their preparedness. This is not a requirement but more of a service we can offer. One of the criteria for participation in the program is that there be an active LEPC. We can also bring training opportunities with the program.


Amy Sebring: Catherine, do you also try to get media involvement in CHER-CAP?

Catherine Pomerantz: Yes, we do. The EENET came out to the Lehigh County exercise and did taping. The shots will be used in a general broadcast for the CHER-CAP program and in a specific Region III video. The Region III Public Information Officer was involved in sending press releases out. This was done in cooperation with the county Public Affairs office. The mayor of Bethlehem was kind enough to provide a statement for the video. Photos from the exercise are posted to the FEMA Region III web page and the Lehigh County EMA web page. The address was provided earlier.


Joseph Donaldson: Did FEMA learn anything from this exercise?

Catherine Pomerantz: Yes, we did. We expected and we had confirmed for us the importance of the community having input into the exercise. We are there to provide and assist the community so that the program works for them. The exercise probably would not be as effective if we had come in and dictated the scenario and who the players would be. I also found out how competitive the medical community is.


Chris Waters: If you're a Project Impact community you can use some of that funding and it is approved under that program. That also gets some publicity if your community is going to participate in Project Impact.


Claire Rubin: Do we know what EPA officials think of this new endeavor?

Catherine Pomerantz: On the regional level I have had very positive feedback. The co-chair of the RRT in Region III is on board and we have discussed the roles that he and his staff would be able to play in the program.


Amy Sebring: Catherine, is there, or will there be in future a guidance document from FEMA with respect to CHER-CAP?

Catherine Pomerantz: We have information available right now. One place to obtain info is our web page, <http://www.fema.gov>. We also have a video that was made in Region IV and you can request that from the regional office.

Amy Sebring: <http://www.fema.gov/pte/cher_cap_info.htm>.

Final Question:

Joseph Donaldson: Any negative feedback?

Catherine Pomerantz: There were suggestion/recommendations on how things could be improved, such as name tags and bios for the evaluators. The funding issue is also one that comes up repeatedly. Right now our goal is to do one CHER-CAP in each state in Region III. Some states would like to have more than one . We are willing to accommodate them as much as we can, but right now we do have limited resources and money is one of them.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today, Catherine. We very much appreciate your time and effort and we hope you enjoyed it. Also thanks to John and Chris from Lehigh Co. for joining us today. I believe Chris already put up his contact info. John, can you put up your contact info?

Catherine Pomerantz: Thank you for inviting me. If people would like more info they can contact their FEMA Regional Office.

John Conklin: <http://www.lehighema.org> (or) <[email protected]> (or) <[email protected]>.

Amy Sebring: Please stand by a moment if you can while we take care of some announcements. First, I would like to announce that we have another Pledger who has completed 12 months during October and is added to the Honor Roll <//bell Ray> Pena! Thank you Ray. <//bell>.

Ray Pena: It has been my pleasure. Thanks to you!

Amy Sebring: Also, if you are not subscribed to receive our newsletter, this month's edition is now posted and may be accessed from the Newsletter link under Quick Picks. Avagene, can you tell us what's on for next week, please?

Avagene Moore: Yes, thank you, Amy. If I may express my appreciation for today's presentation -- Catherine, thank you for sharing this information with us. On behalf of our audience, we appreciate your time and effort.

Next week, Wednesday November 8, 12:00 Noon EST, we feature a Virtual Forum Group Discussion under the most capable guidance of Amy Sebring, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator. The open forum will focus on: "Will the Results of the National Election Have Any Impact on Disaster Policies?" We don't have a crystal ball but will need your participation and input/insight into the topic. Should be very interesting! Make plans to participate next week. Back to you, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. We will have a transcript of today's session posted later on this afternoon, which you can access via the Transcripts link on our home page, and the reformatted versions either Friday or Monday. Thanks to all our participants today. We will adjourn the session for now, and you no longer need to use question marks. Please join us in thanking Catherine and John and Chris and way to go for Ray!