Hazardous Materials Training

DOT and Private Sector Initiatives Generally Complement Each Other Gao ID: RCED-00-190 July 31, 2000

Trucks and trains carry more than 770,000 shipments of hazardous materials across the country every day. Accidents involving these materials--spills, fires, and explosions--cost the United States more than $459 million each year and can cause serious problems for nearby communities. More than 120,000 fire fighters, police, and emergency medical technicians are trained each year to respond appropriately to such accidents in order to protect themselves and the affected communities. Part of the training given to these emergency responders is funded through the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness grants program, which is run by the Department of Transportation. This report (1) describes the program's funding sources and spending, (2) assesses whether the program and private sector efforts duplicate each other, and (3) provides information on whether the private sector's training efforts meet federal training regulations and national training standards.

GAO noted that: (1) the HMEP program has been funded, or self-financed, through registration fees paid by shippers and carriers of hazardous materials--however, Congress, through DOT's appropriations statutes, limited the amount of program funds that could be spent; (2) in February 2000, the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) issued a final rule, effective May 1, 2000, that increased by two-thirds the number of shippers and carriers required to register and raised the fees; (3) RSPA took this action to provide grants at the fully authorized level--$12.8 million annually; (4) according to RSPA officials, they expanded the program to ensure that a larger segment of the hazardous materials response community will receive training at all levels; (5) since 1992, when the program was first funded, through fiscal year 1999, RSPA has spent an annual average of about $8.1 million for the entire HMEP program; (6) over 80 percent of these funds were spent on training and planning grants, with the remaining funds spent on such grant-related activities as providing technical assistance to grantees for their emergency response planning and training; (7) in the seven states GAO contacted, HMEP-funded training to teach emergency responders about addressing hazardous materials emergencies and private sector training initiatives do not duplicate each other; (8) moreover, according to national representatives of major shippers and carriers of hazardous materials, such duplication does not occur nationwide; (9) rather, as part of a portfolio of training resources for the nation's emergency responders, these two types of training activities complement each other; (10) the HMEP-funded training addresses potential accidents involving a wide range of hazardous materials and containers; (11) much of this training teaches the emergency responders to recognize the nature and potential severity of a hazardous materials incident and the appropriate actions to take; (12) in contrast, the initiatives funded by the private sector focus primarily on how emergency responders should react to incidents involving specific hazardous materials; and (13) according to representatives of national associations of hazardous materials shippers and carriers, the private sector's training initiatives on responding to hazardous materials emergencies are not designed or intended to comply with federal regulations and national training standards on emergency response training for public sector employees.

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