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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 77 · No. 4 > Internet Watch

January/February 2014
Vol. 77 · No. 4

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-14-002

Internet Watch

by Gordon J. Delcambre, Jr.

Mobile Apps Bring Flexibility To Emergency Response

When responding to highway incidents involving hazardous materials, such as a gasoline spill, time is of the essence. Fast action is often critical to minimizing hazards, but emergency personnel must take time to gather enough information about the situation to ensure an appropriate response. To help, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) publishes a crucial resource for responders called the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG).

In 2012, PHMSA published an updated version of the ERG that includes new evacuation tables for large toxic gas spills and standard response procedures for gas and liquid pipeline incidents. The agency also released a free mobile application that makes accessing the ERG’s information at the scene easier than ever.

A Mobile ERG

The ERG provides the Nation’s emergency responders with fast, easily accessible information to help them manage incidents involving hazardous materials. PHMSA produced the app version of the ERG jointly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Library of Medicine. The app enables firefighters, police, and other emergency first responders to quickly locate the information they need using an electronic word search function, and ensures easy reading even during nighttime emergencies.

“The first 30 minutes are the most crucial when it comes to responding to a hazmat situation,” says PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “The app is both mobile and flexible, and gives first responders the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their communities in an emergency.”

The home screen features four main menu options: Search by Identifier, Search by Image, Browse Guide Pages, and Reference Material. The search functions enable responders to look up hazardous materials by shipping name, identification number, or placard image. (Placards are diamond-shaped signs posted on hazmat containers that help responders identify the types of materials being transported.) Users can browse the guide pages, which are listed in numerical order. Reference materials, which appear as white and green pages in the printed version, also are listed in the order in which they appear in the ERG. Users can zoom in for a closer look at all of the guide pages and reference materials, including tables highlighting recommendations for initial isolation and protective action distances.

Helping to Make WISER Decisions

The 2012 ERG mobile app is available as part of recent updates to the National Library of Medicine’s Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER). The system is designed to assist first responders with incidents involving hazardous materials by providing a wide range of information on substance identification, physical characteristics, human health, and mass casualty response, as well as advice on containment and suppression.

Mobile screen captures. The image shows four screen captures from the mobile application of the 2012 ERG. The first, in the upper left, shows a search screen by material name, in this case aldehydes. The second, in the upper right, shows a screen from the reference materials, the isolation and protective action table for ethylene chlorohydrin. The third screen, in the lower left, shows a search by placard image. The fourth screen, in the lower right, shows examples of illustrations of various shipping vehicles and the types of loads they typically carry.
Screen captures from the 2012 ERG mobile app.

WISER may be downloaded as an app on a variety of mobile devices and platforms, including Apple® iPad® and iPod touch®, AndroidTM devices, Microsoft® Windows® mobile devices, and Palm® and BlackBerry® units, as well as desktop computers and laptops. A Web-based version of the software called WebWISER is available at http://webwiser.nlm.nih.gov.

The ERG mobile app “provides essential tools to help first responders safely address hazmat incidents,” says Chief Ernest Mitchell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration. “I always found the ERG to be extremely valuable, and I believe that a copy should be in every emergency response vehicle and in the hands of every first responder in America.”

For more information and links to download the ERG app, visit the “Important Documents and Resources” section at www.phmsa.dot.gov/prepare-respond.


Gordon J. Delcambre, Jr., is a senior public affairs specialist with PHMSA.

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