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Q-and-A: Randy Speight, on CHEMTREC’s role in chemical-transportation safety

4 min read


G. R. “Randy” Speight is managing director of the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center, or CHEMTREC, which provides “a broad range of critical resources that can help emergency responders mitigate incidents involving hazardous materials” and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Here, he discusses CHEMTREC’s mission, what lies ahead and the key to the organization’s success in working with government agencies.

What is CHEMTREC’s mission, and how does its presence benefit the chemical and hazardous-material industries?

CHEMTREC’s mission is twofold: to be recognized globally as the definitive information resource and solutions provider for hazardous materials response; and to be recognized as a valuable public service that enhances the reputation and advocacy effectiveness of the American Chemistry Council. As a public service, we provide vital information to anyone having to deal with a hazardous materials emergency. For that information to be effective in mitigating the consequences of an incident, it must be both timely and accurate, and we go to great lengths to make sure that’s the case. CHEMTREC also provides a cost-effective resource for shippers and manufacturers to meet certain hazardous materials regulations imposed by governments in various jurisdictions around the world.

After 40 years, what are CHEMTREC’s biggest challenges going forward?

A few years ago, our customers asked us to build on CHEMTREC’s historical success and extend our services beyond North America to accommodate the increasingly global nature of the chemical industry. We heard them — CHEMTREC now offers its services globally. We began by bringing responders together from around the world to help us better understand the challenges. While we have developed effective solutions for many of those challenges, we operate in a very dynamic environment, and new challenges are always emerging.

We are constantly working to address changing regulatory landscapes, to expand our global telecommunications capabilities, to adapt to the varying degrees of cultural and technical sophistication of callers in distress, and to enhance our ability to locate in-country resources to provide on-scene assistance.  As more companies, in more countries, embrace the benefits of product stewardship and recognize how important it is to be able to quickly and correctly respond to hazardous materials incidents, the more CHEMTREC will be called-upon — with ever increasing expectations — and we must be prepared to answer the call.

Describe a typical situation in which CHEMTREC’s services would prevent or mitigate a potential disaster situation.

There are no typical incidents — each presents its own unique challenge. The gravity of the situations in which CHEMTREC is called to assist ranges greatly — from liquid dripping from a tank truck to a multi-car train derailment. With the product information and guidance that CHEMTREC provides, responders on scene can determine the appropriate steps to take.  In parallel, CHEMTREC notifies the manufacturer or shipper that the incident has occurred and the details so that follow-up action can be taken.  CHEMTREC personnel are trained to deal with each incident in a calm and thorough manner, because every caller considers his incident to be an “emergency.”

What can CHEMTREC offer for other industries seeking to strike a regulatory balance with government agencies?

CHEMTREC was established in 1971 by ACC’s predecessor, the Manufacturing Chemists Association, in response to a request by the U.S. Department of Transportation. That willingness on the part of the chemical industry to “step forward” to address the needs of the public and to continue to support the program underscores the chemical industry’s commitment and sense of good citizenship. That ethic has yielded a level of trust and credibility that has allowed CHEMTREC to openly examine issues related to emergency response and hazardous materials transportation in a very collaborative manner with multiple public and private stakeholders. CHEMTREC has enjoyed formal agreements with federal government agencies such as DOT, the FBI, DOD, the U.S. Army, and others at the federal, state and local levels.

What is your leadership philosophy as managing director of CHEMTREC?

Listen to the customer and remember that our job is to make their lives easier.