The overland transportation of dangerous substances carries with it the inherent risk of spillage. In 1997 approximately 9,6 million tons of dangerous goods were transported by road, with the major part of these goods being carried on a few major routes. Although the chances of a catastrophic environmental accident may be small, the impact from an oil spill or hazardous substance in a traffic accident can be highly detrimental to both the environment and to public health. In the event of an accident, the impact of these substances will be conditioned by the specific environmental conditions at the accident site. The University of Helsinki has carried out pioneer work on the risk classification of traffic areas based on an analysis of surface soil, groundwater and surface water condition. This risk classification can provide valuable information on the specific environmental conditions of traffic areas. The availability of this information would enable the rescue service to estimate the likely behaviour of harmful substances at specific accident sites and to decide the appropriate measures to take. The protection measures could then be focused directly on the right location, avoiding unnecessary delays and minimizing environmental damage.
The aim of the project was to develop an efficient, internet-based GIS (Geographic Information System) tool which would facilitate environmental risk management related to the transportation of dangerous goods. The system would be targeted at municipal, regional and national rescue teams, and would aim to provide them with a cost-effective strategic tool for diagnosing and limiting environmental damage in case of hazardous spillage accidents. The main component of the system was the development of a risk classification system of traffic areas based on hydrological and geographical characteristics. This information was then to be integrated into an internet-based system to be used in the planning, control and implementation phases of rescue operations. It was anticipated that the transparency and ease of access to the information through internet would increase the efficiency and monitoring capacity of the rescue services leading to a long-term reduction in environmental impact.
The project would be developed through five main actions:
- Base data collection
- Field Survey
- Risk Classification and standardisation of rescue operations for each risk class
- System Design and construction
- Training and System Demonstration.
The TradGIS is a Geographic Information System (GIS) made up of two basic components: the Global Positioning System (GPS) and risk classification. In the first, the Global Positioning System (the GPS) enabled the authorities to locate the position of hazardous goods in real time. In the second, the traffic areas were classified into different risk zones related to surface water conditions or types of soil. This information was collected through existing sources and field surveys. The system was then designed to quickly deliver the relevant data to rescue operations in the field, both on the load/freight characteristics (chemical characteristics) and the risk characteristics of the area where the accident happens (eg. Ground water protection zone),enabling a prompt response and solution to the problem.
The pilot demonstrations carried out in the Central zone of Finland covering a transport corridor of 60/70km, were able to test the correct functioning of the system, but not the operational efficiency, as this would depend on the occurrence of accidents and non-repeatable real life situations.
Two other difficulties arose, over the questions of cost-effectiveness and the operability of the system. The GPS system proved expensive, as it currently operates under a monopoly. It was only possible to make a superficial study of the feasibility of using cell mobile phone network as a cheaper alternative. Additionally, the risk classification system came up against a basic lack of consensus between the rescue and operational authorities over their definition of the risks that a particular accident might present.
Overall, the GIS-based risk classification tool made a successful contribution to the risk management of dangerous goods transportation. The software solution developed was effective and flexible, and could easily be adapted to different circumstances, making it highly transferable. However, a consensus still needed to be forged on the details of the technical application of the process. Ultimately this would depend on receiving firm support from the authorities (in the form of regulations and requirements) and from the transport business itself. Nevertheless, the material and presentations made on the theme are highly relevant to EU Policy development in this area.