PHMSA Notice regarding Emergency Response Notifications for Shipments of Petroleum Crude Oil by Rail
  • Article
May 28, 2015
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The Department appreciates the desire of local communities to know what hazardous materials are moving through their cities and towns. DOT's May 2014 Emergency Order ensures that such information is provided to State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) on a routine basis related to any train carrying one million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil. We fully support the public disclosure of this information to the extent allowed by applicable State, local, and tribal laws. To address the concerns raised by stakeholders, the May 2014 Emergency Order will remain in full force and effect until further notice while the agency considers options for codifying the May 2014 disclosure requirement on a permanent basis.

Transparency is a critical piece of the Federal Government's comprehensive approach to safety, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA's) current disclosure requirements under the Federal hazardous materials regulations, our Emergency Order issued in May 2014, and the recently promulgated final rule on "Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains" (HHFT) emphasize transparency and information-sharing. Nonetheless, some stakeholders (including emergency responders) have expressed concern that the HHFT Rule may limit the availability of emergency response information by superseding the May 2014 Emergency Order. That was certainly not the intent of the Rule. To remedy that concern, DOT, in coordination with its interagency partners, will take action to ensure that current levels of information will continue to be provided to SERCs, as well as other State, local, and tribal officials, on an ongoing basis.

Further, longstanding Federal law requires shippers and offerors to carry critical information necessary for emergency responders to respond appropriately to an incident involving the transportation of any hazardous material and to have someone available to provide emergency response information at all times that the hazardous material is in transportation. 49 CFR Ā§ 174.26 and part 172, subpart G. On April 17, 2015, PHMSA issued a safety advisory reminding the regulated community of these legal obligations. This information includes, but is not limited to, identification and volume of the specific hazardous material; location of the hazardous material on the train; risks of fire and explosion; immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an incident; initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire; and preliminary first aid measures. All of this information must be immediately available to any person who, as a representative of a Federal, State, local or tribal government (including a SERC), responds to an incident involving hazardous material or is conducting an investigation which involves a hazardous material.

Moreover, although the HHFT rule does not explicitly address community right-to-know issues, it does require each railroad operating HHFTs to engage in a comprehensive safety and security analysis that will support more timely and effective emergency planning, preparedness, and response. In conducting an analysis, a railroad is required to seek relevant information from State, local, and tribal officials (including SERCs). Because of the detailed and sensitive nature of the safety and security analysis information, the Federal Government requires the information to be treated as "Sensitive Security Information" that cannot be publicly disclosed. This SSI, however, is available to any emergency responder (including SERCs) with a need-to-know upon request from a railroad or from a State/local fusion center.

In addition to these sources of information described above, PHMSA provides resources to the emergency response community in many forms. Some of the key resources provided by PHMSA include:

  1. Emergency Response Guidebook: This guidebook provides emergency responders with a go-to manual to help deal with hazardous materials (HM) incidents during the critical first 30 minutes. It is also available as a free mobile app. Available at:
  2. DOT Chart 15: This chart can be used by emergency responders and others to identify hazardous materials by the affixed label or placard on each train car carrying hazardous materials. Available at: 15.pdf.
  3. Hazardous Materials Information Center: The Center provides live, one-on-one assistance Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET). Available at:
  4. Outreach: PHMSA has a staff of highly trained individuals skilled in training others known as the Hazardous Materials Safety Assistance Team (HMSAT). The HMSAT teams is part of our field operations personnel and is available in all regions of the United States to answer questions and provide on-site assistance to customers of the Hazardous Materials Transportation-State and Local Education (HMT-SALE) program, State, local and tribal governments, and industry associations with technical issues, outreach, training, and compliance assistance in the field of hazardous materials transportation.
  5. PHMSA also has focused on the specific issues related to the emergency response to incidents with large volumes of flammable liquids. PHMSA has created and compiled helpful emergency response and training information that can be used to increase community awareness and preparedness for response to bulk transportation incidents involving energy products such as crude oil, ethanol, and liquefied natural gas. This information includes coffee break trainings, lessons learned and Crude oil fact sheets. More information is available at

Myriad other sources of information and support are available to State, local, and tribal governments' emergency preparedness and response efforts, including other Federal agencies, industry groups and other organizations. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security operates the National Operations Center 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to, among other measures, interact with State governors, emergency responders, and critical infrastructure operations across the country to prepare for, respond to, and recover from hazardous materials incidents. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administers the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1986 to ensure that Federal, State, and local governments adequately plan for emergency incidents and share information with the public.

The railroad industry, hazardous materials shippers, and other organizations also provide emergency response assistance and training to communities through a variety of means, including the TRANSCAERĀ® program. This program offers emergency response information, emergency planning assistance, and training to Local Emergency Planning Committees and others. In addition, the railroad industry has an industry protocol in place, known as AAR Circular OT-55-O, that outlines a procedure whereby local emergency response officials and emergency planning organizations may obtain a list of the types and volumes of hazardous materials that are transported through their communities.

We encourage emergency responders to contact PHMSA if they have additional questions. 1-800-467-4922 or