The Different Levels of Hazardous Materials Response

The Typing Levels of Hazardous Materials Response Teams (HMRT)

*Adapted form Indiana Hazardous Materials Team Qualification Program


There are generally three types of HMRT's that are categorized by their level of training, expertise, capability and equipment and resources.


HMRT's are generally categorized as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3.


The Type Three HMRT is appropriately equipped and trained to handle, and can function in all categories, for all known industrial chemical hazards in liquid, aerosol, powder and solid forms. They are not expected to be fully equipped to intervene and handle vapor/gas emergencies nor incidents involving CBRNE.


The Type Two HMRT is one that: Meets all Type Three requirments, and is appropriately equipped and trained to handle and can function in all categories for all unknown industrial chemical hazards in liquid, aerosol, powder, solids and vapor/gas forms. They are generally not expected to be fully equipped to intervene and handle incidents involving CBRNE.


The Type One HMRT is one that: Meets all Type Three and Type Two requirements, and is appropriately equipped and trained to handle and can function in all categories for all known and unknown CBRNE agents.


Type One HMRT are typically found in major cities that frequently face the threat of a CBRNE-based terrorist strike. Regional HMRT's and federal government-based teams are typically of the Type One status.


The HMRT typing system is similar to the tier system that is often used to assess the capabilities and skill levels of law enforcement tactical units and/or military special operations units.






The Different Levels of Hazardous Materials Responder


There are generally four levels of responder for a hazardous materials and/or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) incidents. Where a responder ranks, depends on the type of training he/she has received.


The Awareness Level:

This level is the most basic and is for persons who in the course of their normal duties, could be the first on the scene of an emergency involving hazardous materials or CBRNE. Responders at the awareness level are expected to recognize the presence of hazardous materials or CBRNE, protect themselves, call for trained personnel and secure the area to their best of their abilities.


Awareness certification can be obtained from universities, medical centers and federal government agencies (FEMA) through exams administered online. The training is self-paced though on average it takes anywhere from one to four hours to complete.






The Operations Level:

Responders at the operational level are those persons who respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous materials or CBRNE as part of the initial response to the incident for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, the environment, and/or property from the effects of the release. First responders at the operational level are expected to respond in a defensive fashion to control the release from a safe distance and keep it from spreading.


Operations level responders meet and exceed the competency level of the awareness responder and are expected to take a much more hands-on approach to an incident that is defensive in nature. Operations level responders may assist in evacuating and establishing hazard zones (Cold, Warm and Hot). They may serve as a source reference and guidance at the scene for responders without HAZMAT/CBRNE training.


Operations responders are typically trained in such HAZMAT/CBRNE defensive techniques as absorption, damming and diking, diverting, retention, vapor dispersion and suppression.


They are also trained in basic decontamination procedures and PPE.


Operations responders may conduct limited search and rescue missions in The Hot Zone by weighing the threat to themselves against the possibility of saving someone from being maimed or killed. Generally, Operations responders are expected to do as much as possible to mitigate the incident without actually setting foot in The Hot Zone.


Operations level training is generally conducted by a live instructor and not online. The training usually takes eight hours to complete.


Operations level responders may be firefighters, environmental and conservation personnel and other miscellaneous public safety or private sector personnel.


The 40-hour HAZWOPER course is the equivalent of Operations-level training.






The Technician Level:

This is a highly specialized and technical level. Responders at this level take offensive action in responding to releases or potential releases of hazardous materials or CBRNE for the purpose of controlling the release. Technical-level responders are certified HAZMAT Technicians and are expected to use specialized chemical protective clothing and specialized control equipment.


Depending on the type of HMRT and it's location, some HAZMAT Technicians may have a more substantial level of CBRNE training than others.


On average, the training to become a HAZMAT Technician is 40-hours. That training may be packed into a time period as short as five days or spread out over a time period of as long as five weeks. Some HAZMAT Technician training is as little as 24-hours while there are some courses offered for as much as 80-hours.


While HAZMAT Technicians are not necessarily expected to be experts in science, they are expected to have a very firm and solid grip on basic chemistry. In fact, most Technicians have a level of understanding and training in chemistry or it's other related sciences (biology, nuclear psychics) that would be considered the equivalent of a first or second year level of college/university chemistry. Most Technicians have an understanding of chemistry that may range from basic to intermediate and even advanced.






The Specialist Level:

This is the highest level of responder for HAZMAT/CBRNE incidents. The Specialist responder has a very in-depth and highly advanced level of knowledge in chemistry, biology or some other discipline of science. The Specialist responder assists Technician level responders with response and may take a hands-on offensive approach in controlling a hazardous release. In other case, the Specialist responder may work with the incident commander from within a command post and offer guidance to Technician level responders preparing to enter or already in The Hot Zone.


In many cases the Specialist level responder serves as a trouble-shooter at HAZMAT/CBRNE incidents and observes Technician level responders working The Hot Zone while watching for complications. In other instances, the Specialist responder may work side-by-side with Technician responders in The Hot Zone.


There are some HMRT teams in the U.S. that are made up entirely of Specialist level responders, though this is very rare. An example of an HMRT staffed entirely with Specialist level responders would be the Division of Emergency Response and Technical Assessment (DERTA) of the New York City's Department of Environmental Protection. That team is staffed almost entirely with engineers and scientists and is considered one of the most knowledgeable and technologically advanced HMRT teams in the nation.


Training to be certified at the Specialist level is 24 hours. Though not all Specialist level responders are engineers, chemists, biologists or other types of scientists, all have an advanced and extensive array of college/university-level courses under their belts. Often, a Specialist level responder may have a four-year (bachelors) degree, It is not uncommon for a Specialist level responder to have a Master's degree or even a PhD.


However, Technician level responders vastly outnumber Specialist level responders and are the most frequent personnel in handling HAZMAT/CBRNE incidents. Technician level responders also tend to have far more actual field/operational experience in responding to and handling emergencies than Specialist level responders who may serve on an HMRT only (though not always) on a part-time basis while working full-time at a college/university, chemical company or some other aspect of the science industry.



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Comment by Shawn on August 10, 2011 at 2:44pm
Yes, radiological and nuclear hazards are generally very closely related as they both fall under the category of radiation hazards. Though there are some officials who would beg to differ with lumping both radiological and nuclear incidents together especially in terms of terrorism. These officials will typically try to emphasize the differences between a nuclear and radiological incident by explaining the fact that one incident involves a massive release of thermal energy along with a radiation hazard (nuclear weapon) while the other generally involves the use of radiological waste (radiological dispersal device, radiological exposure device). Which is likely why both Radiological and Nuclear have their own seperate letters in the accroynm CBRN.

You're right when you speak of people trying to put their own spin on things. There are so many acronyms out there to descibe exotic HAZMAT threats. Some of the various acronyms that I have heard include: Biological, Nuclear/Radiological, Incendiary, Chemical, and Explosive Agents (BNICE), Thermal, Radiological, Asphyxiation, Chemical, Etiological, Mechanical (TRACEM), Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), as well as Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (sometimes there is an "E" attached to this acronym to include Explosives).

It's difficult to keep track of them all but I generally perfer CBRN(E). It's easy to remember and it's more widely used than any of the other acronyms. Years ago, before the Iraq war, WMD was the most popular of these acronyms.

Though I perfer CBRN(E), I am aware that terms to describe exotic HAZMAT incidents vary amonest jurisdictions and agencies and as such I try to familiarize myself with as many as possible.

Thanks for the input, it's very much appreciated.
Comment by Mike Schlags (Captain Busy) Retd on August 10, 2011 at 12:19am
As one of the course developers for the California Hazmat Tech/Spec series, one of the cooler things that came along in the world of acronyms that replaced CBRNE was the updated NBC+E. Radiological and nuclear tend to be the same thing... Everyone is always trying to come up with their own spin on things. Remember BE NICE?

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