Using Plume Models to Improve Chemical Emergency Response

Using Plume Models to Improve Chemical Emergency Response

Mike Platek | Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A plant-wide power outage at Pasadena Refining Systems in Texas one hot July day forced the plant to flare off some product, including sulfur dioxide (SO2). As the toxic black smoke drifted into the nearby community, safety officials partially shut down the Houston Ship Channel and issued a precautionary shelter-in-place alert for area residents.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported as a result of this sulfur dioxide release, but the incident serves as a reminder that preparedness includes acknowledging that there are some events beyond your control. No amount of operational excellence, operator training, or reliability and maintenance could have stopped this event. That’s why it’s so critical to be prepared for any emergency.

During unplanned chemical releases, there are bound to be more questions than answers. What’s happening on the ground? What gas is being released? How much was released and where is it going? Will employees, responders, and neighbors be exposed to dangerous levels of gas, and when will that happen? Where should you focus your emergency team to ensure an efficient response? Is it safe to shelter-in-place or should you order an evacuation? When can you say it’s safe for the community?

What is Plume Modeling?

Plume models are the best way to answer these questions and more. Plume models, also known as atmospheric plume dispersion models, are software-based algorithms that calculate the path and concentrations of airborne contaminants after a release.

Some plume modeling software can incorporate real-time data from gas and weather sensors into advanced algorithms to tell you what contaminant is being released, where it’s coming from, and where the plume or cloud is going. With this information, you can accurately identify the hazard zone and areas that will be affected within a two-hour window, allowing you to make quick safety decisions for plant personnel. You can immediately notify first responders and arm them with the information they need to set up roadblocks, evacuation centers, command posts, as well as decontamination, triage, and staging areas.

With live data on the size, speed, and path of the hazard, you can see in an instant who is impacted—both on your site and within your community—and what action you need to take to reduce risk. Plume modeling software allows you to stop “guesstimating” the gas dispersion path, so you can take the right steps and operate with confidence during a chemical emergency.

In addition to real-time chemical emergency response, you can also use plume models to plan and prepare for future scenarios. For example, you can aggregate historical gas and weather data to explore “what if” a plant-wide power outage would require you to flare off product. If you had to do this, what gases would be released? Where would they disperse? When would you need to notify local authorities? Would you need to evacuate nearby homes? Would you need to close roads near your facility? Asking and answering these questions in advance of a release event gives you the power to create an emergency response plan so you can be better prepared in case of an actual emergency.

Who Should Use Plume Modeling?

static vs. dynamic plume models

Learn about the top 3 applications
for dynamic plume modeling.

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It’s beneficial to use plume modeling software in many industries and applications, but especially in industrial plants, chemical storage facilities, pulp and paper mills, and in emergency response scenarios.

Spanning all industries, emergency response scenarios are the place where plume modeling makes perhaps the greatest impact. During a chemical emergency, first responders must often make critical decisions with little to no information. From fires to chemical spills, plume models can help emergency responders understand the impact on the community to respond quickly and make safe decisions around evacuation and shelter-in-place alerts.

Acknowledging that unplanned emergencies can happen and will happen allows you to invest in emergency preparedness, planning, and response before it’s too late. Implementing and deploying tools to monitor—in real time—muster points, evacuation areas, the facility fence line, and community locations for hazardous airborne substances is the foundation for strong emergency response.

Using these real-time tools takes the guesswork out of mapping the dispersion of air pollutants, allowing facilities and first responders to react and make decisions with confidence, both inside your facility and in the communities you serve.

Our plume modeling software, SAFER One™, is the first and only real-time emergency chemical response solution that allows you to monitor area gas detectors and weather sensors, model gas dispersion dynamically with real-time adjustments based on sensor data, and mitigate the effects of a chemical release.

Learn more about plume modeling software.