– Executive Summary –

The Department of Energy (DOE) operates seventeen national laboratories across the United States. These laboratories conduct scientific research across a wide spectrum of topics, including the environment, health, computing, and national security. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) focuses on national security. LANL was established in 1943, and its staff work to “provide the best scientific and engineering solutions to the nation’s most crucial security challenges.”[1] LANL is infamously known as Site Y for the Manhattan Project: the newly established laboratory was asked to design and build the world’s first atomic bomb.

The Los Alamos Fire Department (LAFD) provides emergency response services to LANL. The department staffs five response stations with a minimum of thirty-seven emergency responders on duty at all times. The high level of performance expected of LANL researchers translates to a commensurate expectation of LAFD. This expectation is written into a cooperative agreement between LAFD and DOE, which requires LAFD to be a “nuclear-grade” fire department that delivers “enhanced fire department services.”[2]

The cooperative agreement defines the services the LAFD must deliver to LANL, including the “development and maintenance of pre-incident plans (PIPs) consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1620 standards for LANL buildings.”[3] Since at least 1995, outside evaluators representing DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), or contractors representing LANL, have cited concerns with the LAFD’s pre-incident planning process. This thesis was designed to gain a better understanding of the problems associated with the LAFD pre-incident planning process and to identify potential solutions for process improvement.

The literature review examined NFPA standards and DOE orders related to pre-incident planning. The NFPA 1620: Standard for Pre-incident Planning is quite comprehensive, but offered little advice relevant to pre-incident planning at a national laboratory; the standard does not take into account the processes or information protection needs of a national defense laboratory. DOE orders offered very few specifics related to pre-incident planning, though some orders did specifically call for a criticality expert to review pre-incident planning documents when appropriate. These orders also suggested that plans should be constructed and maintained to facilitate a collaborative effort. Specifically, input should be “complemented by input from the site fire protection engineering staff, facility subject matter experts, and emergency responders.”[4] The literature review also examined best-practice articles from fire department trade journals. Many of the articles focused on introducing technology into the pre-incident planning process. Other written work reviewed included papers written by National Fire Academy students, and an after-action report from Charleston, South Carolina, that highlighted the grave consequences of inadequate pre-incident planning. The statute governing pre-incident planning in the United Kingdom was also reviewed. This statute mandates participation in the planning process; collaboration is essentially forced upon any agency that would respond to an incident at a planned facility. Finally, the rapid decision-making process employed at emergency incidents was reviewed to illuminate how incidents are handled in stressful environments.

Following the literature review, the thesis researcher assembled all past written evaluations of the LAFD pre-incident planning process. Findings across the twenty years of evaluations consistently called for more information in pre-incident plans and greater collaboration with LANL when developing and maintaining the plans. LAFD’s current pre-incident planning process was then evaluated; findings echoed the insufficient information and poor collaboration from LANL found in previous assessments. An additional finding not mentioned in previous assessments, however, was a significant problem with access to pre-incident plans on Toughbook laptop computers. Only 25 percent of the laptops that contained LAFD pre-incident plans could provide access to the information.

Next, the thesis research examined best practices from fire departments that serve national laboratories and internationally accredited fire departments. Research showed that the pre-incident planning practices in these departments were worthy of benchmarking. The information in the plans was far more detailed than in LAFD plans and supporting graphics were far superior. The best-practice processes also exhibited greater collaboration with the facility staff. Another common best practice was categorizing pre-incident plans based on risk and hazards within the facility. The higher-risk facilities received a more detailed pre-incident planning process. Facilities with fewer hazards received a limited pre-incident plan. These departments also set a minimum level for pre-incident planning, allowing them to forgo the planning process for lower-hazard buildings. By eliminating lower-hazard facilities from the pre-incident planning workload, planners could budget more time to improve plans for higher-hazard facilities.

The research conclusion recommends increased collaboration between LAFD and LANL, and more reliable access to LAFD plans. New technology and paper copies for backup are specific recommendations for improving access. Further, LAFD—or any department working toward improvement—should use the best practices identified in this research to improve their pre-incident planning process; when implementing changes, departments can use these practices as benchmarks for their pre-incident planning processes.

[1] “Our History,” Los Alamos National Laboratory, accessed October 8, 2017, http://lanl.gov/about/

[2] National Nuclear Security Administration, “Cooperative Agreement No. DE-NA0002067” (internal document, County of Los Alamos, October 1, 2013).

[3] National Nuclear Security Administration.

[4] U.S. Department of Energy, Fire Protection, DOE-STD-1066-2012 (Washington, DC: DOE, 2012).

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