Published on May 6, 2015.

Confused on the topic of resilience?

Your cover story [“Resilience,” March/April] confuses resilience with prevention and mitigation. The examples chosen are mostly in the areas of prevention or mitigation, not resilience, and most of those measures highlighted require warning time, sometimes many years in advance.

In forest or wildland fire areas, for example, keeping a defensible space around buildings has been preached for years. It is expensive to clear firebreaks, install ember suppression systems, and establish adequate structural fire protection resources in areas with low population densities and often limited public resources. The incentive to clear brush and maintain water source access is to prevent or mitigate the loss of one’s home.

In your example of the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the city’s ability to handle a mass-casualty incident is not based on resilience but on having excess medical capacity. There are major cities that do not have 30 emergency medical vehicles in service during the day, and may have fewer on holidays, while other cities have vast medical treatment resources in the form of specialized hospitals, teaching hospitals, and trauma centers, but may lack transportation resources. The response to a planned event is just that—planned. You anticipate the risk and plan for the worst case, or at least the ninetieth percentile. Planning for large public events—rock concerts, parades, marathons, week-long festivals—means planning for extra loading of the system and being prepared to mitigate the risks by employing more than normal resources. This does not demonstrate resiliency. It demonstrates mitigating a risk by taking preventive or anticipatory action.

The section of your story that looked at the New York City subway versus Boston’s transit system was similarly uninformed. 

Resilience is the ability to absorb damage, and then recover to pre-event status. In most cases this means having spare resources available that can replace the damaged equipment or infrastructure rapidly. The cost of being resilient must be compared to the cost of the disruption caused by the loss of capacity or service.
 In an era where infrastructure, and especially critical infrastructure, is aged and replacement has been deferred due to cost, mitigation is part of the rebuilding effort. And mitigation is far more economical than resilience.

IRVIN LICHTENSTEIN
Wyncote, Pennsylvania

The editor responds: Our story was organized around the definition of resilience used by NFPA, the federal government, and others, where characteristics such as mitigation and prevention are important aspects of the larger resilience concept. “Resilience can be defined as the ability to withstand a disruption, blunt the impact, recover quickly, and adapt to emerge stronger and better prepared than before,” we wrote. The elements of resilience include intentional actions to plan, prepare, prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, and recover. In many cases, the recovery effort may be to return to a higher level of performance rather than the same pre-event level.

Include the role of insurers in discussion of resilience

Please accept my appreciation for the quality of writing that goes into NFPA Journal—it is one of the journals frequently in my must-read pile.
Regarding your recent cover story [“Resilience,” March/April], resiliency is frequently under-appreciated by those in commercial concerns, since it costs money with no predictable payback. The same can be said of having a military.

What I found to be missing in your look at the move toward resilience is including the insurer. For example, Factory Mutual Data Sheets, for certain aspects of building design, have become the design standard. A building owner’s insurance rate is tied to the integration of these features. This makes these improved design features more tangible as a life cycle cost.

LOUISE M. SCHLATTER, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C 
Master Architect/Senior Associate 
SSOE Group 
Toledo, Ohio

The editor responds: There is no question that insurance is playing a key role in the resilience discussion, and will continue to do so. In addition to having to cover direct losses related to the structure and its contents, insurance may also have a role in covering business interruption losses. The sooner a building, operation, or business is up and running following a catastrophic event, the better it is for everyone—including the insurance company.

Oil and gas fires: Credit where credit is due

It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I read the recently published article on gas and oil drilling in NFPA Journal [“New Frontier,” March/April]. I wish to thank the magazine and the author, Ashley Smith, for a fine job on reporting the training needs confronting the fire service in this ever-growing field.

The fire training photos that appeared on page 56 were taken on the grounds at the Butler County Community College (BC3) Public Safety Training Facility (PSTF). Although the the PSTF was not mentioned specifically in the photo caption, those from the Butler, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas immediately recognized the setting. The article is very timely and extremely informative to the firefighters and emergency responders involved in oil and gas extraction incidents occurring in the Marcellus Shale drilling region in Western Pennsylvania. Fire Chief Neal Nanna from Harmony, Pennsylvania, who was named in the article, along with the fire/hazmat and industrial safety training staffs at BC3 and others, are the catalysts recognizing the need for this training. We at Butler County Community College, Public Safety and Industrial Safety Training work closely with the energy companies and emergency responders to meet those needs.

Realizing that NFPA Journal is read across the country and internationally, I wanted you and your readers to know exactly where the training is taking place.

DR. FRANCIS DELEONIBUS
Director, Public Safety Training Programs and Facility
Certification Test Site Coordinator
Butler County Community College
Butler, Pennsylvania

Emphasis misplaced in oil and gas fire coverage?

I am disturbed by some of the elements of your story on firefighting and the recent boom in U.S. oil and gas extraction [“New Frontier,” March/April]. For example, your caption on the opening photo in the print magazine read, in part, “Big oil’s new home on the range: A fracking facility on the Bakken Shale Formation near Williston, North Dakota…,” and a tease for the story on nfpa.org/journal read, “Rural fire departments and big oil fracking can be a dangerous mix.”

My concern is that both the caption and the tease are not only wrong, but inflammatory in nature. As a member of NFPA, an active NFPA committee member, and an employee of an oil and gas producer in Colorado, I feel obligated to point out that the facility referenced in the caption is not a “fracking facility”—it is a production facility in a producing oil field. Yes, the wells were stimulated using hydraulic fracturing technology, but that technology has nothing to do with this photo.

In addition, not all wells are drilled by “big oil.” Actually, I am not sure just what or who is actually referenced by that moniker, but many wells are drilled by smaller independent companies. Continued misstatements such as this add to the hysteria associated with oil and gas development in this country and abroad.

Also, the story reported that there are 1,600 oil and gas wells in Weld County, Colorado. According to drillingedge.com, an industry resource, there are in fact more than 16,000 producing wells in the county at the present time.

It is important to note that I am not criticizing what I believe the general purpose of the article to be, which is to shed light on the smaller rural fire departments around the country that may not be prepared to fight fires involving the volumes or volatility of the oil being produced from the shale plays around the country. Here in the Greeley, Colorado, area, oil producers have come together to form a co-op to provide emergency response equipment, training, and expertise that will be available to all emergency responders. This has been done, not because there was a regulation or rule requiring it, but because we all care about the safety of the citizens, firefighters, our own employees, and the environment.

It is also important to note that I am writing this not as a representative of my company, but as an NFPA member and a safety professional with more than 40 years’ experience working in the oil & gas industry. I find it problematic that the article noted examples where oil companies responded to requests from fire departments to help them better prepare for the possibility of a fire, while pointing out that rural firefighters and techniques used by those companies can make for a “dangerous mix.” Again, the purpose of the article is commendable in that it can raise awareness among fire departments to ask oil and gas companies in their areas for assistance with training, expertise, and equipment.

TERRY CLARK
Member, Technical Committee on Flash Fire Protective Garments (NFPA 2112 and NFPA 2113)
Greeley, Colorado

The editor responds: The writer is correct to distinguish between oil and gas producing facilities and the techniques used to access that oil and gas. Journal did in fact misreport the number of producing wells in Weld County, Colorado; that number is around 16,000, a figure confirmed by an independent source quoted in the story. The writer is also correct in pointing out that, as we reported in the story, oil and gas companies have partnered with rural fire departments to share resources and expertise for fighting fires at oil and gas production sites. However, the nature of these fires, combined with the proliferation of oil and gas production facilities around the country due to new extraction techniques like fracking, continue to make this a significant issue for many rural fire departments that may lack the resources and training to effectively address the threat—thus the apt description of a “dangerous mix.”

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK: Email your letters to journalmail@nfpa.org, or mail them to Editor, NFPA Journal, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, Massachusetts, 02169. Please include your title, company or organization affiliation, and where you’re based. NFPA Journal reserves the right to edit letters and comments for content and length.