Road Tunnels Manual

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Emergency response

Emergency response measures are a group of measures covering the reaction of the tunnel operator, the emergency services and other organisations to a significant tunnel incident requiring intervention beyond normal operational procedures. As there is a wide range of different incidents, the measures required are diverse. For instance, a simple breakdown of a vehicle in a traffic lane might require the closure of this lane or of the whole tunnel tube. This example demonstrates the complexity of the topic “Safety measures”, because this response measure to the “breakdown” incident would also be considered to be a preventive measure against collisions.

Emergency response measures are typically complex because they interact with safety procedures and tunnel safety equipment as well as with human behaviour involving tunnel users, tunnel operators and emergency organisations. Among the possible hazards to be considered in road tunnels, vehicle fires are a particular concern because they can occur quite often, and the consequences can be more severe in a confined space. Therefore it is a fundamental requirement for every tunnel to make rescue and firefighting operations possible, even if the conditions might be quite different from case to case.

Whereas the operators know their tunnels quite well, firefighters need to perform tactically demanding work in a more or less unknown situation, compared with the daily challenges in industry and buildings. It is crucial for safe outcomes that firefighters have basic training in tactical methods for collecting information, search and rescue, and firefighting in tunnels.

Incident command needs knowledge about tunnels and tunnel fires in general and the specific characteristics of an individual tunnel in particular, and also knowledge about tactical dispositions of crews. Incident command needs to make the right decisions in a very demanding situation, in terms of information access, efficient cooperation with the tunnel operator and interaction with a complex environment of tunnel infrastructure and technical safety systems. In order to cope with these challenges, it is important to establish close working ties between tunnel operators and local firefighting organisations in order to share knowledge on the specific tunnels, and to keep the fire-fighters updated on any aspects relevant for safety, such as changes in equipment, operational procedures, traffic conditions etc.

Fig. 1 : Tunnel safety exercise with fire brigadeIt is also important to carry out assessment of preparedness, contingency planning and regular training for each tunnel. For these reasons, several PIARC reports treat the issue of fire safety and emergency response in road tunnels.

Part of the material included in these reports relates to specific tunnel features and is dealt with in the corresponding chapters of this manual, for instance:

Some tunnels are a crucial part of the traffic infrastructure in a region or a city. If their availability is impaired this might have a major impact on the mobility of a whole area. For such tunnels it is important to assess the consequences of major incidents  - accidental or intentional - on tunnel structure and equipment as well as the risk of resulting long-term tunnel closures and consider counter measures that can minimise closure time after a tunnel fire. The emergency response capabilities are often a crucial part of protecting the infrastructure, but other active and passive protection measures should also be considered.

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