Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters
March 31, 2023
Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program Background
The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), a Department of Defense (DOD) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) partnership designed to protect communities surrounding chemical weapons depots across the United States. Currently, there are two remaining depots, down from an original nine, in Colorado and Kentucky .
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to the Blue Grass Chemical Depot and 523 tons or 1.66% , of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. This stockpile impacts neighboring communities and industry including ten surrounding counties: Clark, Estill, Fayette, Garrard, Jackson, Jessamine, Laurel, Madison, Powell, and Rockcastle . The diversity of these communities is extensive and ranges in economic status, age, ethnicity, education, land and home ownership, and community history.
The CSEP Program offers funding and support for communities surrounding Chemical Weapons Depots to prepare for and respond to a chemical weapons accident or incident. This preparation includes yearly full-scale evaluated exercises which include decontamination procedures, public information dissemination, evacuation drills, including those with area schools, traffic control points, and public safety information testing.
Recognizing that the extensive exercise capabilities that CSEPP demands are rare across most of the United States, the following article demonstrates how a small, rural, and largely economically unstable community is using free, open-source tools to further its response effectiveness across multiple threats and concerns, including chemical weapons.
Jackson County Background
Jackson County is the quintessential backdrop of Kentucky. It is a small town located in the rolling hills and backwoods hollers. It has limited basic infrastructure and sparse population where most people commute 60 minutes or more to their place of employment. The beauty is not without risk, including tornadoes, flooding, severe weather, and a chemical accident or incident from the Blue Grass Chemical Depot only 30 miles away.
The average minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and the median household income is $33,699 per year. The majority of residents speak and read English with a 71.3% high school graduate or above education.
Patient tracking is a complicated and time-consuming process for local jurisdictions and their stakeholders. Yet during a chemical response, where decontamination is essential to life safety, time is of the essence. It is essential to know who is being treated, their medical concerns, the time of their exposure, and vital information. For Jackson County, and many communities throughout the United States, this information-gathering phase was clipboard and paper-based. Shuffling papers, and tracking patients in triplicate is difficult no matter the circumstances and made even more so with decontamination suits, water, and the potential of hundreds of patients.
For Jackson County, this paper-intensive method was no longer acceptable. Yet with technology tools out of financial reach, there was no way to track patients quickly and in a cost-effective manner.
Creating an ‘Easy’ Solution
Every Emergency Management agency longs for an ‘easy’ button when it comes to disaster response. As seasoned responders, we know that is impossible, but we can use new technology to create more accessible capabilities for all our responders.
This technological solution was created during Jackson County’s CSEPP exercise, where the emergency management team noted the need for an in-house, affordable, and effective model to replace their current check-in system.
Their goals were to
● Track and easily update the status of individuals from the time of check-in to the time they return home.
● Limit immediate contact with potentially contaminated individuals while still maintaining consistent contact
● Track and easily update the vitals status of and keep track of hazmat-donning staff.
● Provide accurate information and status updates to individuals searching for or worried about their family members during an evacuation.
The process and idea of utilizing Google Sheets and Google Docs, as well as the use of laptops and a Zoom conference call system, was the creation of Hannah Gabbard, a student studying Emergency Management at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), and Jamie Strong, the Emergency Management Director for Jackson County.
This solution is a low-cost, low-maintenance system. It requires access to off-the-shelf technology including Google Docs and Google Sheets, Zoom conference calls, a steady internet connection, and video-capable devices.
The system does require some level of comfort with coding in Google Sheets, but the skills are easily learned, and after the initial setup of the system, can be quickly duplicated and customized.
Simplifying the complex
Tracking potentially contaminated and anxiety-ridden residents and their families, including service animals and pets, is complex. It is time-consuming and difficult to do while fully clothed in a hazmat suit. Knowing the complexity, if you could implement a change in the process to decrease the time at check-in by 45 minutes for nearly free, would you, do it?
The process for registration and tracking of the patients was unique and an excellent example of out-of-the-box thinking with low-tech implementation.
At the entry into the DECON, a laptop was set up on a table. Each patient who entered the DECON was instructed to approach the laptop for registration. Utilizing a Zoom conference call, the patient spoke into the laptop and interacted with one of the workstations in the ICP. Inside the ICP utilizing the Zoom call and a headset the ICP staff were able to see and communicate very clearly with each patient. The staff person next to the Zoom reception intake person recorded the information on a Google Sheets document which was a template to cover essential information, including vehicle registration information. The patient was instructed to pick up a DECON bag and proceed through DECON. Once through DECON, another staff person verified their identity and utilized a portable radio for communication. The information was logged into their laptop, adding information through Google Sheets. The patient was then instructed to proceed to medical triage.
At Medical Triage each patient was provided a medical evaluation with collected information being placed in the Google Sheets document. Depending on the medical evaluation, the patient was transported to a medical facility or sent to the shelter. Again, their status was recorded in the Google document. Because they utilized the Google Sheets Document format, everyone with access to that document could track any patient’s status, including the IC. They built in a color code system so that priority DECON survivors were marked in red. Those who went to a medical facility had a different color code and those who went to a shelter had another color code.
The third work staff person in the ICP was tech support. During the operation, they lost their feed. The Tech support person calmly worked through the problem, never a hint of panic. Within 5 minutes she had the system and the Zoom feedback in operation.
This system was also used to record the DECON team vitals as well as monitor and record stay time.
The implementation of the ICS system was one of the most effective operations this evaluator has had the opportunity to assess. The out-of-the-box, low-tech approach for registering, and tracking patients through a DECON operation was not only a strength but should be considered a “Best Practice”, an operation that could effectively be emulated by numerous other jurisdictions.
Google documents automatically update across all devices the moment an edit is made as all viewers are essentially accessing the same document. This implementation allows anyone who needs access to records to always have the most updated information and reduces any communication errors that may occur.
This instant update is a valuable way to communicate between county departments, ensuring reliable communication and accountability for safety officers and responders in a chaotic environment.
It is additionally useful to local hospitals as it provides early warning on the number of patients to expect along with a brief background on who they are.
Google Forms may be used to collect information from respective individuals, where they may submit information themselves rather than needing a staff member to input entries for all individuals needing to be tracked. Forms information can be programmed to automatically populate a Google Sheet that offers the same level of customization. This information will only be viewable to those who have access to the sheet as well, preserving survivor privacy.
This combination of tools can easily be applied in any situation that requires documentation and keeping track of many objects or individual people within a large group such as during a mass casualty incident.
Jackson County has utilized this system in a number of additional ways:
1. For an expedited check-in system to track patients, identifying information, and contamination status in an incident.
2. During a winter storm to keep a well-stocked and tracked inventory, using QR codes to scan items and update the Google Sheet, record outages in the area, equipment requests, and usage rates, and calculate incurred costs
3. To track past, current, and future staffing teams. This was especially valuable for hazmat teams as there are regulations on the length of time someone may be in a hazmat suit.
Custom Without the Cost
This method of patient tracking may be utilized to track any number of categories, including but not limited to, identifying information, the number of individuals coming in, and exposure symptoms. This system offers great flexibility and allows any number of measures the client would like to record.
Google applications are available at no cost to anyone with a google email account.
Organizations may elect to use Google Workspace which gives a custom business email as well as other additional collaboration tools with pricing beginning at $6 per month per user.
Zoom video conferencing is also available for free to users, although meeting times are limited to 40 minutes. Upgrading to 30 hour meeting limits are available with Zoom Pro for $149.90 per year per user.
Costs to utilize this system are already held by most organizations. These include costs for:
● Internet access
● Internet and video capable devices
● Staff time
Assuming that a full 8-hour workday is spent on the project with Kentucky’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the following costs are estimated.
There is the potential for internet connection to get disconnected. In this instance, to ensure consistent patient interaction, immediate communication of the issue is important. The system of tracking will continue with or without interruption, but the patient care connection is limited without an active internet connection.
If Zoom video conferencing is not needed, the check in system would continue through the shared documents as Google workspace allows for offline edits. In this case however, edits on one device will not be communicated to others until an internet connection is restored.
Security may be a concern when using Google Workspaces given its cloud structure. However, Google has a number of security measures in place to keep your information safe.
● Perfect forward secrecy: Encrypts content as it moves between Google servers and the servers of other companies. This prevents retroactive decryption of HTTPS sessions by an adversary or server operator.
● Strengthening encryption: In 2013, Google changed its RSA encryption key length to 2048 bits and changes them every few weeks.
● Share access options: Any document you create will have customizable sharing options. You can choose who has access to your document and choose between editing, commenting, and viewing access. Only editors are able to share the document to others.
Building the next generation
Since 1988, the CSEP Program has developed cutting-edge capacities across Federal, State, and Local communities. Even with that experience, we continue to nurture the next generation of emergency managers and technology development using commonly available resources that require very little sustainment funding.
While it would be ‘easy’ for a long-standing, Federally supported program to seek costly solutions to create abbreviated check-in capacities, Jackson County and fellow CSEPP communities have chosen to use off-the-shelf, sustainable technology practices to build responsive systems that can be used across threats and hazards. This technology adaptation demonstrates a connection and opportunity to build strong, resilient capacities across all types of communities no matter their threat needs, physical size or funding support.
CSEPP – Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program
DECON – Decontamination
DOD – Department of Defense
FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
ICP – Incident Command Post
ICS – Incident Command System
1 Centers for Disease Control – Closing U.S. Chemical Warfare Agent Disposal Facilities https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/demil/closing_facilities.htm [website]
2 https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/us-chemical-weapons-stockpile [website]
3 https://www.cma.army.mil/bluegrass/ [website]
4 https://csepp.ky.gov/Pages/CSEPP-Counties.aspx [website]
5 https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/jacksoncountykentucky [website]
6 https://workspace.google.com/security/?secure-by-design_activeEl=data-centers [website]