Command Structure: What it’s Really Like to Take Part in Disaster Response

“To assist in the protection of life, the environment, and property;” as an emergency response professional, Dr. Paul Nony says these words resonate strongly with him.

Dr. Nony, senior toxicologist with CTEH®, has personally been to the sites of more than 100 major chemical incidents during his decade as a part of the CTEH® team.  He takes great pride in the CTEH® team’s knowledge and experience, and he is constantly working to be sure that potential clients and the general public understand exactly what role CTEH® plays in chemical and industrial accidents.

Dr. Nony, in a rare moment behind his desk.

Dr. Nony, in a rare moment behind his desk.

“We are charged with providing third-party environmental sampling in order to assist in the protection of the public and workers during chemical emergencies.  We do air, soil and water monitoring and contamination evaluation,” he explains.  “We generate data using sound scientific methodologies so all stake holders can get a rapid, timely evaluation of true impacts to environment in these incidents.”

Dr. Nony points out that everything CTEH® does during accidents must be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and appropriate state agencies – not simply the client who has hired them.  In fact, the CTEH® team works under a military-style “unified command” structure during major incidents, and its recommendations and plans must be approved through this command.

“We are a part of the National Incident Management System’s Incident Command System structure. The EPA trains agencies and responders on this system and then rolls them out,” Dr. Nony said.  “The unified command is made up of federal and state representatives, as well as Tribal representatives, if necessary, and the responsible party.  Decisions are made as a group, not by any one party.  The goal is to guarantee objectivity and transparency.”

Whether preparing for a drill or in a command center, Dr. Nony is usually on the move.

Whether preparing for a drill or in a command center, Dr. Nony is usually on the move.

The process of becoming a part of these incident teams is rigorous.  Regulators vet CTEH® and other responders on a regular basis, judging them on safety plans for workers, technology, attention to detail, and countless other factors.

“They see what we do and how we do it, and if they aren’t comfortable with us, they will tell the responsible party (in an incident) to hire someone else.”

In the next post, Dr. Nony will address the issues of safety at incident sites and transparency of information.