The National Transportation Safety Board today issued three safety recommendations to address deficiencies in emergency notification procedures uncovered during its investigation into the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) pipeline rupture and explosion that occurred in San Bruno, California, on September 9, 2010. The accident killed eight people, injured many more, destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others.
The investigation revealed that emergency responders in communities around the country may not have the information that they need in order to most effectively react to a pipeline leak or rupture.
Although the local fire department in San Bruno was aware of the PG&E natural gas distribution system that traversed the city, it was unaware of the much larger transmission pipeline that ruptured in the accident. The lack of information about components of a pipeline system can put emergency responders at greater risk and reduce the effectiveness of the response.
The NTSB is concerned that this lack of information is not unique to San Bruno. Therefore the NTSB recommended that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issue guidance to pipeline operators regarding sharing system specific information (including pipe diameter, operating pressure, product transported, and potential impact radius) with the emergency response agencies in the communities and jurisdictions where their pipelines are located.
The NTSB also discovered that for a period of 16 minutes following the rupture of the pipeline in San Bruno, the local 911 emergency call center was not notified by PG&E technicians as they were trying to interpret the alarms and low-pressure indications on the pipeline to determine what had occurred.
Because the prompt notification of local emergency response agencies through 911 can be crucial to the success of the emergency response effort, the NTSB has recommended that PHMSA issue guidance to pipeline operators about the necessity of control room operators immediately and directly notifying the appropriate 911 emergency call centers when a possible rupture of any pipeline is indicated.
The NTSB also made a recommendation to PG&E to require its control room operators to immediately call 911 when a possible rupture of any pipeline is suspected.
"Pipeline operators and emergency responders must work together to protect their communities," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "To enhance public safety they must coordinate in advance and ensure that timely notification occurs during an emergency."
The San Bruno accident investigation is on-going. Findings, conclusions and a determination of probable cause will be made at a public Board Meeting in Washington, D.C., later this year. Additional safety recommendations may be issued at that time.
San Bruno Pipeline accident web page