Pipeline safety partners

July 10, 2006
As the number and size of gas and liquids pipelines in the US continue to grow, so does public and regulatory concern about their safe operation.

As the number and size of gas and liquids pipelines in the US continue to grow, so does public and regulatory concern about their safe operation. This focus prompted the National Association of State Fire Marshalls (NASFM) and the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2002 to form the Partnership for Excellence in Pipeline Safety.

The partnership set a goal of zero pipeline incidents as part of “achieving a level of excellence that far exceeds current safety standards.” The zero-incidents level has yet to be reached and might well be an idealized goal, but the increased focus on safety by all industry participants has helped lower the frequency and scope of pipeline incidents (OGJ, Apr. 24, 2006, p. 60).

On June 20, 2005, API RP 1162 took effect as the final rule of PHMSA’s Pipeline Operator Public Awareness Program, requiring pipeline operators to develop and implement public communications programs. Operators were given 12 months to comply. As part of the partnership, NASFM facilitated dialog with emergency responders to help operators meet their RP 1162 requirements in a timely manner. It also sponsored meetings in all 50 states-the Pipeline Community Awareness Project-to improve communications between pipeline operators and emergency responders.


NASFM is playing a similarly active role in operators’ identification of high-consequence areas (HCAs). While operators are familiar with their lines, they are likely less familiar with the areas through which they pass, especially given the increasingly rapid pace of changes in land use near urban areas.

Through the partnership, NASFM has brought public safety officials into HCA assessments to help operators in both identifying HCAs and gathering and collating related data for submission to regulators.

Sometimes this cooperation has involved meetings at which pipeline and community maps are compared. In other instances, emergency responders and pipeline operators have performed joint inspections of the pipeline itself.

Pipeline operators remain responsible for compliance with HCA regulations, but NASFM’s participation is helping them. It has also helped raise local fire services’ understanding of the importance of being involved in the HCA process and in addressing potential problems jointly with the pipeline operators.

NASFM carried out an HCA-outreach pilot project in Kentucky with two goals. One was to develop a methodology that would enable pipeline operators and emergency responders to cooperate in a sustained effort to identify HCAs. The other was to build public confidence in the integrity of pipeline safety initiatives.

Subsequent statewide meetings have been held in Wyoming, California, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, with NASFM presenting the draft model generated in the Kentucky pilot at each.

NASFM officials report that Florida is working with emergency officials and pipeline operators in setting up a joint approach to HCAs and that Wyoming also has started work on its own program.

Presentations are scheduled for Virginia and Texas, with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and one other state also expected to have meetings during 2006.

Emergency training

As a follow-up to each meeting, NASFM schedules “Pipeline Emergencies: Train-the-Trainer” courses on state or regional bases, inviting emergency responders and pipeline industry representatives.

NASFM designed the course with a DOT grant in 2004 to prepare experienced emergency-response training instructors to deliver its Pipeline Emergencies curriculum to other emergency responders. The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute delivers the course under contract to NASFM.

The course familiarizes instructors with NASFM’s training materials and the options available for delivering them to audiences of various skill levels. It also includes an overview of the basic principles of liquid and gas pipeline system operations and tactical procedures for handling 10 types of pipeline incidents.

NASFM considers the Pipeline Emergencies training program the partnerships’ greatest success, with more than 15,000 copies of the accompanying manual distributed thus far.

More information on the course can be found at www.pipelineemergencies.com.

Pipeline safety is a shared and multifaceted responsibility, requiring public, operator, and governmental involvement. In helping operators raise public awareness and address HCAs, NASFM is continuing its work toward the partnership’s zero-incident goal. In facilitating emergency responder and operator training, it is helping mitigate the effects of any incidents that occur in the meantime.