Joint Hazardous Assessment Team
By Lt. Alvaro Javier Toñanez, Exercise Planner/Training Officer, Hazardous Materials Bureau, Miami Dade Fire Rescue, USA
High Profile Events (HPE) that bring together large numbers of people present a certain risk to those that are responsible for planning such events. The organizers not only have to figure out how to build up and set the venue they must also take into account the safety and security of all those in attendance. One of the main risks at such events will always be that of a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction or just a weapon of mass disruption. All it would take are few spectators to believe that a nefarious act is taking place to trigger a chaotic scene. This could in turn cause a stampede effect that would cause severe injury and death to those seeking shelter from a perceived attack. In order to avoid such a tragedy countermeasure would need to be set in place. Countermeasures can assist in balancing the scale between threat and protection, they provide the necessary means of deterring or neutralizing a potential attack. One of the most underutilized countermeasures at HPE is the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team, better known as JHAT’s. These are teams made up of first responders that specialize in assessing possible threats during a National Special Security Event (NSSE). The teams are made up of Hazardous Materials Specialist (HZS), Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Technicians, Evidence Collection Specialist, and U.S. Army Civil Support Teams (CST) formed for the purpose of analyzing and collecting information in regard to potential hazards meant to disrupt or attack an HPE or a large population gathering.
The purpose of the JHATs during these events would be to locate, analyze and assess any possible hazards that may be considered a significant threat to the security of the event. JHATs could gather information for the on-scene Incident Commander by performing a rapid scene assessment to obtain ground truth to a threat or attack. The information gathered through site characterization is then utilized to develop a COURSE OF ACTION to escalate or deescalate a response, i.e., formulate objectives for the Incident Action Plan.
A few considerations should be identified prior to forming the teams. First, the JHAT’s should be organized depending on possible threats that could affect the event. These threats are based on intelligence collection from several agencies that are tasked to filter through suspicious noise or activities concerning the HPE. This information is then shared through intelligence briefing with those planning and coordinating a possible response. The next consideration is based on tools and equipment used to assess hazards identified in intelligence briefing. Finally, the last consideration is the human element. Experienced personnel needed to operate the equipment and interpret the information gathered.
During High Profile Events (HPE) or large gatherings, the worst-case scenario is the scenario in which the trigger causes a stampede of people. This can cause most of the death and injuries far beyond that caused by the trigger. An explosion will cause structural damage and death to those in the immediate blast area. This will be followed by spectator stampede adding to the number of injuries. A chemical release may cause panic of a few spectators, which can, in turn, cause a stampede and trampling of a larger crowd.
The following is the recommended formation for a JHAT with 6 personnel
-EOD (2) -CST (1) -HZT (2) -Paramedic (1) Each team moves throughout their Area of Responsibility via All-Terrain Vehicles or SUV’s depending on each team’s territory.
-Chemical Threats -Biological Threats -Radiological Threats -Explosives Threats -Sampling Equipment -Decontamination Equipment
The flow of information from the Incident Commander to his JHAT’s
Response notifications may come from different sources but will eventually make it to the JHAT Group command and control (C2) who will then coordinate both JHAT response and decontamination operations. ALERT’s may be generated from either a 911 call, Event staff, or Remote monitoring detectors. Once the notification is received the C2 element will decide what team to send to investigate and address the issue.
Prior to the event, all JHAT members should attend training to cover the following information:
-Equipment familiarization: All detectors that would be utilized during a response. -Procedures for response: Coordination of team members that come from different agencies with their own independent Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) will require detailed instructions on how to coordinate efforts and understand each agency's capabilities and limitations. -Procedures for decontamination: Decontamination of contaminated responders and civilians if needed will be handled by dedicated fire suppression units dedicated to this mission. JHAT personnel not directly involved with the mitigation efforts will lead or assist in establishing decontamination corridors -Decision-Making Process: This is the process by which the HazMat Specialist in the JHAT Team analyzes information and quickly decides a COURSE OF ACTION based on detectors/sensor activation, situational awareness of his surroundings, and human signs and symptoms.
If time permits training should then be followed by an exercise to ensure that lessons learned can be practiced in a more realistic environment. If available, the exercise would be of much better value if it took place at the same location as the event. The exercise should focus on the coordination of efforts between the different agencies that make up each JHAT, ensuring that procedures are well orchestrated, and that each member understands their role in the different types of response.
A U T H O R
Lt. Alvaro Toñanez is a Fire Lieutenant for the Miami Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) Department, assigned to the Hazardous Materials Bureau. In his 25 years of duty he has been involved in several HPE held in Miami, such as the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) summit, several Nascar Cup final, NFL Super Bowl and Pro Bowl games, and the MLB World Series. He currently functions as the MDFR, JHAT Training Coordinator for the Miami Gran Prix.