May 29, 2013

Wedding and Disaster Planning

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I recently attended my nephew's wedding and it started me thinking about disasters. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think getting married is a disaster for my nephew and his bride. It's a good thing and I'm sure they'll be very happy. Just thinking of the complexity of planning and executing the event, however, started the wheels of my crazy safety professional mind turning. There are striking similarities between planning for any major event, such as a wedding, and planning for a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) incident response.

Think about it. The wedding planner acts as the incident commander, coordinating many different "agencies": the bride's family, groom's family, the caterer, guests with special diet needs (can you say gluten free?), the photographer, the spiritual leader, etc., each of whom have their own specific needs and concerns. Groomsmen need to rent tuxedos and bridesmaids have coordinated dresses made. The success of the ceremony and ensuing celebration rises or falls based on the organizational abilities and communications skills of the planner.

Similarly, hazardous materials incident commanders coordinate local, state and federal agencies, law enforcement, rescue personnel, emergency medical personnel and public health personnel, and the list continues depending on the size of the event. There is personal protective equipment to consider and mitigation of unexpected events. One key to successful mitigation of a hazardous materials incident is a clear line of authority and proper communication among all agencies. Pre-planning is vital to the successful mitigation of HAZMAT incidents, just as it is in a successful wedding celebration.

Weddings, of course, have two major advantages over HAZMAT incidents: 1 - the date and time of a wedding are determined in advance, and; 2 - the risk of serious injury or loss of property is almost negligible.  Both the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exams have questions on dealing with the incident command system and dealing with hazardous materials (HAZMAT) incidents. There are two great resources to study when learning the basics of the HAZMAT Incident Command System (ICS). The first resource is the classic "Occupational Safety and Health Guidance Manual for Hazardous Waste Site Activities", also known as the four agency manual as it was written by four agencies of the U.S. Government. You can download this manual from OSHA here:  While it was originally written in 1985, much of the information is relevant today. The only chapter that is clearly out of date is the chapter on air monitoring instrumentation. Significant progress has been made in air monitoring technology since 1985. The other great resource is the Incident Command Resource Center created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This website is located at

While I played a very minor role in the wedding, I truly enjoyed being part of the process. My role was clear and I did it well. It was a joy to see the happy couple start their new life together. After the bride and groom kissed at the end of the ceremony, we all had loads of fun dining and dancing at the celebration. There were no casualties or property damage and everyone went home happy. It was the perfect conclusion to a major event and the end result of effective planning.

Read 3972 times Updated on May 29, 2013