Emergency Preparedness

Emergency responders should routinely communicate with local pipeline operators to exchange information, evaluate potential emergency scenarios and discuss how to respond and coordinate efforts in the event that an emergency occurs. Responders should know three items with regard to the pipelines in their communities:

  • How to recognize the signs of a pipeline release or emergency
  • What to do in the event of an emergency
  • How to contact their local pipeline operator(s)

Recognize the signs of a potential release.

Do you see?

  • Fire or explosion
  • An accumulation of dark, oily liquid on the ground
  • A rainbow-colored sheen on water
  • A vapor cloud or mist
  • Dust blowing or liquid bubbling from an unexpected area
  • Discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area

Do you smell?

  • Hazardous liquids, such as crude oil, refined products and highly volatile liquids including butane, propane, ethane as well as hydrogen sulfide often smell of "rotten eggs."
  • When first produced, natural gas is a colorless, odorless gas. However, in some production areas, raw natural gas will emit the scent of hydrocarbons.
  • It is not until natural gas is injected with a chemical, mercaptan that it smells like rotten eggs or a recently lit match. Mercaptan is a flammable chemical that emits a pungent odor, designed to draw attention to a leak. Typically only natural gas distribution systems contain mercaptan.

Do you hear?

  • Blowing, Hissing, Roaring or Whistling

If a pipeline emergency does occur, know the following:

  • Each pipeline operator will designate persons responsible for liaison with emergency responders. Make sure you know who these individuals are and how to best contact them.
  • Pipeline operators develop extensive emergency response plans that take into account various scenarios that may result from a pipeline incident. Visit with operators in your community to learn about the plans and the role of your agency during a pipeline release.
  • Pipeline operations and affiliated facilities can affect those who work at or near these facilities. Confined spaces, hazardous substances and workplace structures can also become hazards to personnel and the environment.

Responders should also have:

  • Local pipeline operators’ contact information
  • The general location of pipeline and related facilities in their community
  • The product(s) being transported
  • A general understanding of the steps that should be taken in the event a pipeline release or related emergency