Putting more Action in your Emergency Action Plan

In an emergency situation, every minute counts, and having a plan in place allows first responders and public safety officials to contain most threats before they grow into an unmanageable problem. During the Las Vegas Safety Day event, the Ammonia Safety and Training Institute, the Las Vegas Hazmat Team and others, including Michael Winburn, vice president of operations at Shetakis, which operates a cold storage facility in Las Vegas, came together to demonstrate how advanced planning can save critical time.

Gary Smith, president of ASTI, an organization with the mission to “make ammonia the safest managed hazardous material in the world,” said nearly 200 industrial responders and government and public safety officials attended the event, which was held March 27 and 28.


Winburn and his team took on the role of plant incident commander to demonstrate how effective it was to use his command team to address a safety situation and was able to show how he and his team accomplished the entire process, starting with the initial discovery, in seven minutes.

Winburn has worked closely with ASTI to create useful, detailed checklists as part of the company’s safety plan. “The magic of ASTI is stepping back and looking at it more in depth and different ways to make those plans better. You can have plan A, which meets the regulatory requirements, and then Plan B that really goes in depth,” Winburn said.

Smith said he has been working on safety plans for 10 years to take the technically difficult measures out of the planning process and create easy-to-follow checklists which operators can use to engage with their players. “You train with it a few times [and] it becomes muscle memory,” he said, adding that the checklists have been designed to help operators provide upfront information that tells their teams the hazard zone, the level of concern and their assignments. “They have a checklist of their own, so they start engaging.”

To demonstrate the plan, Winburn and first responders created a video, which has resonated with those who watched it. “A lot of people have come to me and said, ‘This all makes sense,’” he said, adding that different people learn in different ways. “I had a friend who has been in the refrigeration industry for 18 years who was at Ammonia Safety Day. He saw the video and said, ‘I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I’ve helped various customers maintain their equipment and plants. I’ve been a part of evacuation drills, but it all pulled together after watching the video.’”

View the video at https://ammoniasafety.com/one-plan-response/.

Smith said it is possible for any operation to create a similar plan. “People have to understand the importance of not boxing yourself in by thinking you can’t do these things. Don’t undersell your people or think they can’t rise to the occasion,” he said.

In addition to providing guidance on the plan, Winburn said the team at ASTI has helped open up the communication between industry, first responders and regulators, which was especially helpful because he hadn’t made progress on that front despite repeated attempts. Since then, he has had multiple municipalities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the North Las Vegas Police through his building. “As far as taking down some of the barriers to getting the organizations together, ASTI has been key in that,” he said.

Winburn credited his team for their dedication to safety. “There is one of me and 90 more people that work at Shetakis. Without the support cooperation and desire to be better as a company from everybody, I could never do my job,” he said.


The knowledge gained at Safety Day events was put into action recently by Captain Richard Nudd, a hazmat technician and a member of the Las Vegas hazmat team. Nudd attended the Safety Day this year as well as in 2017, and recently was called to a leak at an old plant, Desert Gold Food Co.

Nudd was able to apply his knowledge and resolve the situation quickly after the initial call came in, reporting a strong smell of ammonia spreading 500 to 1,000 feet from the facility, Smith said. Nudd and his first-in crew advanced on the release with limited support from the plant manager who said that the leak had been stopped but the odor was getting stronger. “Captain Nudd understood the high/low side concerns, from our class last year,” Smith said. “He asked if the leaking evaporator had been pumped down and isolated. The answer was yes, but he could see that the plant manager was unsure. The lead operator and contractor had been called and were not on the scene.”

Nudd asked to see the cold room where the leak was occurring and as he and his team approached, they could hear the hissing of the release. “Captain Nudd called the lead operator for the plant on the phone,” Smith said.

The operator explained where the two valves were located that isolate the evaporator. “The firefighters closed those valves and immediately heard the release hissing stop,” Smith said.

Nudd took a video of the cloud developing in the room and used his fourgas monitor to read the percentage of ammonia in the room, which was about 120,000 ppm. “He considered the need for positive pressure ventilation, but the building was about 300,000 square feet and had many intervening rooms and add-on cold boxes between the ventilation inlet and outlet exhaust,” Smith said.

The room had a drainage system, so Nudd called wastewater and told them that he wanted to send some aqueous ammonia their way, and they gave the okay. “They sprayed the cloud with fog spray and immediately reduced the 120,000 ppm concentration of ammonia vapor by about 75 percent, as the aqueous ammonia escaped through the floor drain,” Smith said. “Las Vegas public works monitored their drainage plan and coordinated with Captain Nudd on any concerns.”

Ultimately, there were no concerns as Las Vegas public works has more than 300 miles of drainage system plus dry containment catch basins to move the storm water flow before processing the ammonia through their wastewater plant, Smith said.

Next, Nudd used the water streams to support positive pressure ventilation by placing the streams on the exhaust outlet. “The total time on the scene was 4.5 hours. If the same problem were to occur today, they could deal with it even faster,” Smith said.

“During our work with the two-day safety day we got Lance Cranford and Captain Nudd together. We also created a master map and Blue Playbook for Desert Cold that showed how the plant and fire department were gaining a higher level of cooperation and future planning,” Smith said.

EPA, state emergency response commission representatives and local inspectors were all in the audience and supported the cooperative approach. Desert Gold is working with C&L Refrigeration who has willingly implemented over $400,000 of improvements to the plant, Smith said.


Emergency response requires a team approach, and the Las Vegas Safety Day event helped bring responders together. “Last year there was a lot of anxiety about not having a good Tripod relationship between the responders, industry and government, particularly between city and county interests,” Smith said.

This year Carlito Rayos, emergency manager from the City of North Las Vegas, Soleme Barton, assistant emergency manager, and Richard Volez from C&L Refrigeration organized the first meeting of local industry, government and public safety. “They have formed a Community Advisory Organization with bylaws, officers, membership and an on-going agenda,” Smith said.

During the event, ASTI also featured the Henderson Industrial Community Advisory Panel that has an on-going relationship that supports joint effort in managing hazardous materials.

The spirit of collaboration has reached far beyond Las Vegas. In 2016 Kathryn Lawrence, chief of emergency prevention and preparedness for Region #9 EPA (California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii) called a meeting of local, state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administation and Environmental Protection Administration leaders. ASTI was invited to share thoughts about how to improve the working relationship between government, industry, and public safety to improve the effectiveness of prevention, preparedness and response to hazmat emergencies, Smith said.

Anhydrous ammonia was the target chemical to demonstrate a new and better way to “prevent emergencies or stop them small.” Lawrence found the funding to perform Safety Day training within Region #9. By the end of 2018, EPA and ASTI will have provided safety day training to more than 1,000 participants.

Smith said that the EPA, IIAR, and ASTI are working to improve the effectiveness of first responders, and the safety day event moved the groups closer to that goal. “We broke down barriers between tripod players and supported the efforts of local leaders to engage a long-term solution to the challenges they jointly face,” he said.