CAMEO: A Starring Role in Chemical Emergencies

By Peter Gattuso

In 1983, an accidental chemical release in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people. There quickly came a heightened awareness of chemicals in our communities for fear of the same accident happening here. At that time, few computer programs were on the market to support chemical emergency professionals. So in 1986, together with my colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we developed free software to help local governments prevent, prepare, and respond to chemical emergencies. The software, Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO), was developed as a hazardous chemicals search tool. It now tracks facilities that store chemicals, provides emergency planning contacts and resources, and contains a chemical reference library.

As fire and police departments, industries, universities, environmental organizations, state, local and federal agencies began to use CAMEO, they gave us feedback on the kinds of features they’d find useful. We developed ALOHA, a planning/predictive tool used to investigate the potential impact of a tank rupture, drum spill, truck rollover, or similar incidents. Its modeling capabilities are also used during post-incident investigations. For example, a chemical release air dispersion model can be created after an incident to help investigators determine whether there were contaminants or dangerous areas during the incident.

CAMEO users kept telling us, “We need maps!” Back in 1988, most mapping programs were on mainframe computers, and none were free. So we developed our own – MARPLOT. You might say it’s a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the common man: a PC-based tool that doesn’t require much training. It’s tightly integrated into the CAMEO suite, so you can see the location of chemical facilities, overlay a chemical plume from ALOHA, and even determine the population within the plume, using the latest Census data. An exciting re-write of MARPLOT is due summer 2013, which will integrate online basemaps (like Google, Bing, MapQuest, OpenStreetMaps). It will operate in any browser, on any platform, and will retain the ability to run without an Internet connection,

It’s been very fulfilling to continue CAMEO’s expansion over the years and to see it being used so often, by so many in the United States and in other countries in chemical emergency planning, preparedness, and response activities.

About the Author: Peter Gattuso has developed multiple information systems since joining EPA in 1975. Currently in the Office of Emergency Management, Peter concentrates on emergency planning and response computer systems and is the lead technical consultant on systems for Risk Management Planning.