Understanding of hazmat in county could aid public safety
Williamson County commissioners accepted a grant and approved matching funds to support a hazardous materials commodity flow study this summer at their April 2 meeting.
The in-depth study would look at hazardous materials, or hazmat, being transported through Williamson County, said Jarred Thomas, the county's emergency management coordinator, at the meeting.
"This has never been done in the county; it's never been done in Central Texas," he said.
These types of commodity flow studies identify the types and amounts of hazmat transported into, out of, within and through a specified geographic area, according to the "Guidebook for Conducting Local Hazardous Materials Commodity Flow Studies" by David Bierling, an associate research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute. TTI, which is a member of The Texas A&M University System, is assisting Williamson County with the study.
The $54,539 grant commissioners approved is distributed by the state through the U.S. Department of Transportation, Thomas said, on the condition of 20 percent in local matching funds. Williamson County will pay $13,635 by factoring in volunteer hours and the partial salary of the county's assistant hazmat chief, Michael Wofford, who will act as project manager.
"The main goal behind these projects is to give [local emergency planning committees] information they can use to plan for hazardous materials transportation incidents and accidents," Bierling said. "The main idea is to provide them with information they can use to better protect the populations. It can help them figure out kinds of materials they need to be prepared for, identify equipment they need to use and also the processes or techniques they should be training for and exercising with so they can respond better in case something bad happens."
The commodity flow survey could take between six and nine months to complete, Bierling said, with a couple of the months being devoted solely to data collection.
Volunteers will do most of the data collection, and Bierling said he hopes to start volunteer training sometime in May.
Volunteers will collect data along highways by recording hazmat placards on passing vehicles. The numbers will be referenced later to confirm what type of material was being hauled.
"We're looking for everything," Thomas said. "Think about how many times you see a tanker truck going down [I-35]. Do you really think about it?"
Bierling said TTI has done 21 similar projects covering 38 county or city jurisdictions in Texas since 2008.
Researchers with TTI enjoy working with local jurisdictions and volunteers because the more involved the community is, the more relatable and useful the findings of the study are, Bierling said.
"We're really looking forward to working with Williamson County on this project," he said. "We should provide them with good information to help their emergency responders plan for keeping the population safe."