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October 19, 2012
Coordinating pipeline emergencies

In a new advisory bulletin, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reminds operators of gas, hazardous liquid, and liquefied natural gas pipelines of their responsibility to “immediately and directly” notify emergency response and other public officials when there are indications of any type of pipeline emergency.  

Federal regulations require that operators have written procedures for responding to emergencies involving their pipeline facilities.  The regs also require that operators include procedures for planning with and notifying local emergency response officials through a 911 call center, formally known as a public-safety answering point (PSAP).  Additional regulations direct operators to provide notice of and information about their emergency response plans to appropriate local emergency officials.  These response plans should include information about how emergency officials can determine potential pipeline-related risks and implement appropriate response plans.

Information sharing

The purpose of the bulletin is to emphasize the necessity of “immediate dialog” between pipeline operators and local emergency staff when there are any indications of an emergency.  PHMSA notes that the local PSAP may have information pertaining to the event that is not available to the operator.  For example, a pipeline facility operator may be aware of a sudden pressure drop on the pipeline, but may not be able to pinpoint the location of release.  The local PSAP may have received 911 calls concerning a strong odor of crude oil or fuel or of a large fire, but may not be aware that a pipeline facility is involved. 

“The early exchange and coordination of information can benefit both pipeline facility operators and emergency responders so that a more rapid and effective response to the event is achieved,” states PHMSA.

10-digit calls

The bulletin states that the operator should ensure the call to the appropriate PSAP is made promptly and to as many jurisdictions as is necessary.  Direct-inbound 10-digit numbers must be used for specific PSAPs, since a call to 911 would be routed only to the PSAP for the caller’s location. 

Furthermore, operators should ask the PSAP(s) if there are any other reported indicators of possible pipeline emergencies, such as odors, unexplained noises, product releases, explosions, and fires, since such reports may not have been linked to a possible pipeline incident by callers contacting the 911 centers.

The bulletin urges operators to be proactive in notifying local officials and to have mutually acceptable plans in place to ensure effective implementation of a coordinated response involving local public safety officials.

PHMSA’s advisory bulletin on communications during emergency situations involving pipelines was published in the October 11, 2012, FR.

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