Disaster Status: Part 1/3

Nothing can complicate a story more than a disaster hitting the town in your novel. What would a realistic response look like from the EMS community? There’s no one better to talk about disasters than an EMS professional. Dianna Benson is here for a three part series on EMS and hazardous materials.

Worst Possible Haz-Mat Situations

In a hazardous-material situation, a small town can easily and rapidly become overwhelmed and thus unable to efficiently handle the crisis at hand due to their limited resources. Below is a list of some additional factors beyond “the town is small” that would heighten the chaos, and for writers, would create solid fictional conflict.

Scenario: Traveling at high speeds, two tanker trucks collide; both roll-over. One truck is an atmospheric pressure tank; the other is a cryogenic liquid tank.

Additional possible factors….

The accident occurs:
1)      Near a school during school hours
2)      Near a stadium filled with spectators and athletes/performers
3)      Near a power plant
4)      Near a hazardous waste facility
5)      Near the town’s landfill (landfills contain countless haz-mats)
6)      Near the town’s water treatment plant
7)      Near the town’s only EMS station
8)      Near the town’s only hospital
9)      Near the town’s only fire department
10)  Near the town’s only police department
11)  During rush hour traffic
12)  During a storm
13)  At 3am
14)  The closest haz-mat team is four hours away

In all of the ten “near” cases above, assume those buildings/areas are contaminated by hazardous material spills from both trucks. Haz-mats are often airborne (so air vapors), which are the most deadly simply because air vapors are invisible— they travel quickly, through most any material (including ventilation systems), and without warning. Plus, they’re next to impossible to contain. Sometimes an unusual cloud or smell is detected, but obviously that warning comes concurrent of the smell and/or cloud discovery, so those individuals in or near the hot zone are already exposed. Keeping safe distance from the hot zone is the only way to eliminate exposure.

Minimum safe distances depend on the chemicals of the hazardous materials present, but an example of an initial minimum safe distance is: 1,000 feet downwind, 500 feet upwind, 330 feet complete radius. Avoid downwind areas entirely and stay upwind. Clearly, continuous monitoring of wind changes is vital.

What additional scenarios and additional factors can you think of?

Disaster Status: Part 1/3. Write realistic hazardous materials scenes. Click to Tweet.

*Originally posted January, 2011.*
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Dianna Torscher Benson is an Award-Winning and International Bestselling Author of suspense. She’s the 2014 Selah Award Winner for Best Debut Novel, the 2011 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. She’s the author of The Hidden SonFinal Trimester  and Persephone’s Fugitive. The 2nd edition of The Hidden Son released in 2016.

An EMT in Wake County EMS since 2005, and a victim advocate practitioner since 2016, Dianna authentically implements her medical, rescue, and crime victim advocacy experience and knowledge into her suspense novels. She loves helping people in need, often in their darkest time in life. Dianna and her husband live in North Carolina with their three children.

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