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HAZMAT Workshop to Support Emergency Preparedness in the Panama Canal

MARCH 11, 2024 — OR&R staff conducted a five-day Hazardous Materials Contingency Planning Workshop at the Panama Canal in support of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). 

A view of the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal.

The U.S. is the largest user of the Panama Canal, with total U.S. commodity export and import containers representing about 73% of Panama Canal traffic. Much of the cargo transported through the Canal is classified as hazardous materials (HAZMAT), including bulk chemicals, petroleum, and liquified natural gas (LNG). By supporting this activity, NOAA helped ensure that a key economic driver to the U.S. economy is ready to respond to an oil and chemical incident. 

Additionally, by treaty and agreement with the U.S. National Response Team (NRT), NOAA may be requested to provide scientific support to the Panama Canal Authority for oil and chemical incident planning and response for events that are in the mutual interest of both countries.

This activity supported the NRT Panama Canal subcommittee that meets, plans and trains with the Panama Canal Authority regularly. This workshop was requested by the ACP to assist them with improving their hazardous substance response preparedness. The workshop provided an opportunity to strengthen the official U.S. relationship with the Panama Canal Authority, provide requested training on OR&R response tools, as well as provide a valuable assessment of the canal’s chemical hazard risk, HAZMAT response capacity, and emergency preparedness planning and response tactics. 

As a group, participants evaluated “what if” scenarios, including accidents with large LNG tankers, multiple HAZMAT cargos on larger container ships, and lithium-ion batteries. The primary U.S. participants were three staff members from OR&R’s Emergency Response Division and Disaster Preparedness Program, as well as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responder. Two members of the U.S. Coast Guard also attended to assess the value of this workshop in support of U.S. port preparedness planning. In addition to the staff from the Panama Canal Authority, HAZMAT teams from Panama City local fire departments also participated. 

The end result was a productive collaboration on emergency response planning that ultimately benefits both counties. 

Last updated Friday, March 15, 2024 11:16am PDT