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Deadly Explosion Prompts Fresh Look at Regulation–WSJ Article

Posted by Neno Duplan

“Now the explosion that killed at least 14 people and injured more than 200 others, is prompting survivors, safety advocates and some regulators to question whether such facilities are adequately monitored.” The answer is they are not. Only a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system integrated across different regulatory frameworks and monitored media could help prevent future disasters of this type. The article further states “For example, ammonium nitrate, thought preliminarily to have been involved in the incident in West, is left out of many regulations since its danger is as an explosive, not as an airborne toxic gas.” However if the plant had hazardous waste management and reporting system in place, ammonium nitrate would have been reported and possibly managed better. One focus of investigation will be whether the fertilizer facility avoided scrutiny by not self-reporting hazardous materials to federal agencies or downplaying risks. Another reporting that did not happen was to the Homeland Security department. The facility didn’t report itself to the agency for storing large materials of ammonium nitrate as it was required to do. The department has requirements for facilities that store ammonium nitrate, since it is considered a terrorist threat as an explosive device, but relies on companies to self-report their materials.

Although the level of inspection of chemical facilities nationally may be low, there are plenty of regulations in place that, if followed, incident like this could have been avoided. In this case missing proper reporting of their inventory probably would have started authorities down the path of taking a closer look. I don’t believe we need more regulations, we need a system for a better data management and reporting.

What is more alarming here is a laissez-faire posture toward information management at the facility. Similar facilities and companies should ask themselves a question: Where is my reporting data? Who controls it? Do I own it and can I prove to regulators in real time that I know what is happening at my facility? I think everyone in the chemical, oil and gas, and other high risk industries should take a hard look at this incident and ask of their management is it worth it to continue procrastinating whether to acquire environmental management information system (EMIS) or not. From my own experience in the industry of environmental information management it takes minimum 12 to 18 months and longer for company to decide to buy environmental information management system. It takes at least that long to implement the system. And after it is implemented only fraction of companies use it correctly or are ready to fund the necessary training of their employees and consultants.

Companies should dump their reliance for decisions like this from the plant managers to C level executives. We are living in the era of Big Data and Big Data requires Information Management Systems designed to manage Big Data. Moreover, decisions must be made at the Board Level, not Plant Level. Excessively many companies are flying blind! And EMIS and data must be in the Cloud. Why? Because even if the West Texas had the best information management system on premises it would be of little help today as it would have been blown up along with the plant itself, just like Chernobyl, BP Oil Platform in the Gulf of Mexico, or Fukushima. The time is ripe for Government to mandate and industry to embrace Cloud-based system for Environmental Information Management. Some smart companies have already moved in this direction. If consumers and social networks did it why is corporate world so behind? If we did not have a “social network” in place would we have solved Boston Bombing so quickly. West Texas was much more devastating disaster and, unfortunately, we may never find the right cause for the accident as all data is gone.

Click here for the link to WSJ Article

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