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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 Executive Summary The need for cooperation in research to ensure the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials is mounting. Responsibility for building a safe and secure system of hazardous materials transportation is shared by shippers, carriers, regulators, and emergency responders throughout the country, industry, and all levels of government. This report, the product of a year-long study by a committee of experts in hazardous materials transportation, research management, risk analysis, enforcement, and emergency planning and response, describes these shared responsibilities and identifies numerous problems that cooperative research can help address. The committee recommends the trial of a national cooperative research program for hazardous materials transportation that will make use of the expertise and perspectives of all those having an interest in overcoming problems and improving capabilities for managing risks, preparing for incidents, and responding to emergencies. The safety record of hazardous materials in transportation is admirable for the nearly 1 million shipments moved daily. Incidents with severe public safety consequences are rare due to the collective efforts of the thousands of public and private entities responsible for ensuring the safety of these shipments. The challenge before these entities, however, is continually changing as new materials are developed, means and methods of transporting them evolve, and new concerns emerge, including concerns about security, public health, and environmental harm. Traditional measures of safety are no longer fully adequate in assessing overall system performance in controlling risks. An expanding array of entities responsible for aspects of performance presents many practical challenges in creating a responsive and effective system for controlling the varied risks associated with transporting hazardous materials. The
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 committee believes that cooperative research will become an important part of the strategy for meeting these challenges. The committee believes that a national program for cooperative research can be developed and can succeed. Hazardous materials shippers and carriers, regulators, and emergency responders have long worked together to develop standards, share resources and information, and respond to emergencies. Cooperative research programs have proved successful in several related fields. They demonstrate that such a program can yield widely accepted and useful results. This study examines the idea of a cooperative research program for hazardous materials transportation, that is, a program aimed at finding solutions to problems and concerns shared by the many parties who would cooperate in defining, coordinating, and overseeing the research. The focus of the study is on determining whether a national cooperative research program would be a useful supplement to existing research in the hazardous materials transportation field. Four federal agencies with central roles in ensuring the safety and security of hazardous shipments sponsored the study: the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Special Programs, Federal Motor Carrier Safety, and Federal Railroad Administrations and the U.S. Coast Guard of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The study committee believes strongly that cooperative research will prove useful, and may be essential, in ensuring a safe and secure hazardous materials transportation system. Nevertheless, bringing it about may require a pilot test to reveal its potential and build interest in a larger-scale program. The fragmentation and diversity of the hazardous materials transportation sector make cooperative research important, while they present challenges to its implementation. A pilot program will do much to determine the value of a cooperative research program. It will demonstrate how well the hazardous materials community can work together, the extent to which shared problems exist and are suited to cooperative research, and how useful a cooperative research program can be in seeking practical solutions to these problems. A program structure is recommended, and ways of financing, governing, and managing the program are outlined. The four sponsors of this study are urged to pilot test the program concept by pooling a modest
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 amount of their research funds to finance research projects. The projects would be selected by a special committee of stakeholders drawn from a cross section of the hazardous materials transportation sector, to include shippers, carriers, and emergency responders. The program should be managed and the research conducted in a manner similar to that of cooperative research programs that have proved successful in other fields such as public transit and highways. On the basis of experience with the trial program, the stakeholder panel and the hazardous materials sector as a whole will be in a position to judge the desirability of creating a larger and more lasting national cooperative research program. MOUNTING NEED FOR COOPERATIVE RESEARCH Hazardous materials are substances that are flammable, explosive, or toxic or have other properties that would threaten human safety, health, the environment, or property if released. The threat stems not only from accidental releases but from a concern that terrorists will target these materials to cause harm to public health and safety and to the economy. More than 15 percent of the freight tonnage moved in the United States is regulated as hazardous by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The challenge of ensuring the safety and security of hazardous materials is complicated by the large volume and ubiquity of these shipments, which are found in all modes of freight transportation, all regions of the country, and all segments of the economy. Ensuring safety and security is necessary because many of these materials are vital to commerce and the daily lives of Americans. Ensuring the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials requires the efforts of carriers in nearly all modes of transportation, shippers of a wide range of products, and government agencies at all jurisdictional levels. The main responsibility is that of shippers and carriers, who follow their own good practices and long-standing rules and standards put in place by industry, the federal government, and international bodies. Because releases in transportation occur on occasion, this responsibility extends to state and local police and fire officials, who are often first to arrive on the scene of a release and who must act quickly to minimize harm. Moreover, state and local authorities must work with
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 industry and federal agencies to ensure the security of shipments passing through critical infrastructure and population centers. Even within the federal government, more than a dozen agencies have regulatory, enforcement, operational, and other responsibilities pertaining to hazardous materials transportation. All of these entities have much at stake in providing a safe and secure system for transporting hazardous materials. All parties responsible for the transportation of hazardous materials require information to support their decisions. Which routes and modes of transportation are safest, most secure, and pose the least risk to the environment? Which materials are suited for which type of packaging? Which emergency preparations are most prudent given the nature of the materials passing through the transportation system? Which shipments merit extra security attention? These are examples of the kinds of decisions that industry and government must make on a regular basis. Such decisions are often made independently by thousands of public and private entities, but their ramifications can be far-reaching. Decisions to move hazardous materials by one mode versus another, for example, can affect the emergency preparations needed in various parts of the transportation system and in the communities in which the transportation facilities are located. Changes in material packaging requirements can lead to the diversion of hazardous cargoes to different transportation vehicles, modes, and routes, which may have safety and security implications. Good decisions demand good information. They require data and analytic tools for weighing options and understanding causal relationships and systemwide effects. The promise of a cooperative research program is that it will allow such problems to be addressed from a wider range of perspectives. It will allow the consolidation of resources to seek solutions more efficiently, as opposed to piecemeal and duplicative efforts. It will lead to greater acceptance of research results from the many entities involved because each will participate in the process. And it will lead to more widespread dissemination of the results and their use in the field. By cooperating in the setting of the research agenda and in guiding individual research projects, the diverse parties responsible for hazardous materials safety and security would have a dependable way to work together in finding solutions to their shared problems.
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 A cooperative research program could provide objective information and analyses for use in making regulatory and investment decisions, planning for hazardous materials emergencies, and improving the capabilities of emergency responders. The committee identified a number of research areas that are candidates for cooperative research; they include a review of how hazardous materials safety regulations relate to security concerns, a national assessment of hazardous materials emergency response coverage, and technical support for updating and improving the Department of Transportation’s Emergency Response Guidebook as needed. ENVISIONING A FULL-SCALE PROGRAM The committee finds that there is a demonstrable need for a cooperative research program for hazardous materials transportation. While there are numerous ways to structure such a program and bring it about, the experience of cooperative research programs in other fields suggests the importance of the following guidelines for building a successful program: It should be financed, at least in part, by a cross section of end users of the research. Federal assistance in financing may encourage and sustain broad-based participation by these stakeholders, including those who do not have the financial means to support the program. It should be governed and guided by the end users of research, including all who have key roles in ensuring the safety and security of hazardous materials transportation. It should be managed in ways that lead to trusted and high-quality research results, engage stakeholders in all stages of the research process, and ensure widespread dissemination of the research results. The following represents the committee’s vision of how a hazardous materials transportation cooperative research program could be financed, governed, and managed. Federal and Stakeholder Financing The diverse array of stakeholders in hazardous materials transportation means that no single industry segment is likely to have the incentive to
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 fund cooperative research, and some will not have the financial means to do so. The federal government regulates hazardous materials transportation because of the broad public interest in ensuring its safety and security. A federal appropriation of funds to help pay for a hazardous materials transportation cooperative research program can be rationalized on the same public interest grounds. Federally appropriated funds would provide core financing of the overall program of research, perhaps coupled with supplemental funds contributed on a discretionary basis by stakeholders for individual projects. In the committee’s view, the problems and research needs associated with hazardous materials transportation are at least as complex and numerous as those associated with public transit, which receives federal appropriations for cooperative research on the order of $8 million per year. The committee believes that a cooperative research program comparable in magnitude with that of the cooperative research program for public transit, on the order of $5 million to $10 million per year, can be justified to ensure the safety and security of hazardous materials in transportation. If the program proves successful over a period of 3 to 5 years, an increasing portion of program funding may be derived in a more direct manner from stakeholders and users of the research. Stakeholders must be convinced of the program’s value and must commit their time and finances to support it. The funding approach must be agreeable to the stakeholder communities, not forced on them. If its use for this purpose is permitted by Congress, the Hazardous Materials Registration Fee is one possible funding source. The fee is already being collected from carriers, shippers, and others in the hazardous materials transportation industry. It varies from $300 per year for small businesses to $2,000 per year for larger businesses. It generates about $13 million per year in federal revenues, most of which is appropriated to states and localities to strengthen their preparedness for hazardous materials emergencies. Raising the fee by about 8 percent, or $25 for small businesses and $150 for others, would generate about $1 million in annual revenues for cooperative research. Increasing stakeholder financing of the program over time, even if it is discretionary, is key to fostering a sense of ownership of the program by stakeholders and ultimately ensuring that the research products remain useful.
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 Governance by a Broad Base of Stakeholders The program should be guided by a governing board that is largely independent and composed primarily of the end users of research, who will be responsible for soliciting research needs, prioritizing them, and setting the program’s research agenda. The governing board should ensure that the products of research are useful and well disseminated within the broad array of stakeholder communities. A majority of the board members should be shippers, carriers, suppliers, and state and local emergency managers and responders, because they are the significant end users of research. The board should also have representation from the federal agencies that have programmatic, operational, and regulatory responsibilities for hazardous materials transportation safety, security, and environmental protection. These agencies will likewise gain from cooperating in research with one another as well as with other segments of the industry. Management Modeled on Existing Cooperative Programs Without knowing how a hazardous materials transportation program would be financed and governed, it is premature to lay out precisely how and by whom the program should be managed. However, experience with existing cooperative research programs indicates that certain key features of a research process will be integral to the success of the program. First, individual research projects should be conducted by contractors selected on a competitive basis. Contract research, as opposed to investment in specialized research facilities and the hiring of in-house staff, will allow for greater flexibility in the research program. A competitive process for selecting contractors on the basis of both qualifications and cost will encourage quality and efficiency, build program credibility, and enable more research projects to be undertaken with a limited research budget. Second, technical panels should be responsible for defining the scope of individual research projects, developing requests for proposals from researchers, selecting the researchers to perform the work, overseeing and reviewing the work, and assisting with dissemination of the final product. The technical panels should include end users of the research as well as technical experts from academia, the private sector, and government. Third, the organization man-
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 aging this process should be perceived as independent and focused on research as a main organizational mission—characteristics that are essential in building trust. As a corollary to this point, the host organization should be known for research products that meet scientific and professional standards of quality and should have the capability to disseminate these products widely. NEXT STEPS: PILOTING THE CONCEPT The program outlined above would require a dedicated effort not only from research advocates but also from the stakeholder communities. However, the benefits of research are not always apparent to those focused on day-to-day operations and concerns. The committee recognizes this practicality and the challenge of securing support for a cooperative research program absent tangible evidence of its utility. The building of support may require a smaller-scale effort that demonstrates the functioning of the program and yields some early and useful research results. A pilot test of the hazardous materials transportation cooperative research program is needed. The committee therefore urges each of the four agencies that sponsored this study to contribute $250,000 in research funds to create a pooled fund of $1 million for cooperative research. The four agencies may seek additional contributions to enlarge the pool from other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Energy. A $1 million fund should be sufficient to pay for three or four research projects that are carefully selected to yield results that are timely and useful. A number of candidate research projects are identified in this report to illustrate research topics that may be suited to a full-scale cooperative research program. A pilot program would need to focus on projects costing between $100,000 and $300,000 and capable of being completed in 12 to 18 months. Some of the projects may be precursors to larger research projects identified in this report, such as literature analyses and syntheses of practice in the field. The sponsoring agencies should ensure that a broad-based committee of stakeholders is formed to identify needed research and advise on how the pooled research funds should be programmed to
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Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation: Defining the Need, Converging on Solutions - Special Report 283 meet these priority needs. The stakeholder committee, acting in a manner similar to a program governing body, should represent a cross section of the hazardous materials shipping and carrier communities as well as experts in emergency response, risk management, and hazardous materials transportation safety and security. This committee should identify and define a series of individual research projects and recommend funding for those with the greatest potential for yielding practical solutions to important problems in the field. The projects selected for the pilot program should be of interest to a large number of stakeholders and promise usable products to practitioners in a short period of time. Each research project should be guided by an oversight panel that includes both technical experts and practitioners from the stakeholder communities. The panels for the pilot program need not be large or elaborate. They may consist of four or five members of the larger stakeholder committee, supplemented by one or two outside experts as needed. The panels will select contractors to perform the work on the basis of merit. In the end, the value of the research should speak for itself. If the research results from the pilot program are useful, the cooperative research concept can be expected to generate stakeholder interest in pursuing a larger-scale program. A formal critique of the pilot program should be undertaken by the sponsoring agencies along with the stakeholder committee. The successful programs in other fields suggest that stakeholder involvement and interest in cooperative research must be present at inception. A pilot program can help establish stakeholder ownership from the start.
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