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Vehicles carrying hazardous materials are a part of everyday traffic in the modern world, with 1.2 million shipments a day in the United States alone. Most drivers aren’t aware of this—until something goes awry.

When a crash occurs, there can be shockingly little information available to first responders as they assess the situation, and that can lead to evacuations, closures, and even injuries to both emergency personnel and the public at large.

That could soon change, thanks to a breakthrough being developed in conjunction with UT’s Southeastern Transportation Center.

The e-HM system—being devised by a UT-led consortium that includes Labelmaster Services, Blue Dot Solutions, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory—will allow such materials to be tracked in real time from the moment they are loaded until they arrive at their destination.

“This is a big step forward in terms of being able to track these materials,” said Stephen Richards, director of the STC. “At the same time, giving authorities the information they need in a far speedier manner is a vital part of this as well.”

Under the current paper manifest system used by most trucking companies, certain accidents have made it impossible to access cargo descriptions. That can leave fire and police officials aware only that a trailer has a hazmat placard on it but not what the material is or how much of it was on the truck.

Just as shocking, current regulations don’t even require paper manifests to be updated as products are offloaded.

Labelmaster Services Vice President of Government Affairs Bob Richard gestures while leading a recent discussion of a new hazardous material tracking system at UT.

“The reality is that someone shipping a clothing item or shoe can track that all over the world, but the system for tracking hazardous materials is in the Dark Ages,” said Bob Richard of Labelmaster.

The way the system will operate will be much like an online shopping cart.

The technology is compatible with smart phones and tablets, and will begin at the point of shipment with a bar code or QR code being scanned or photographed and thus entered into the virtual manifest.

Descriptions and quantities of materials and their packaging, as well as any federal regulations or safety precautions for those materials, will be included as part of the upload and will be updated after each pickup and delivery as part of a driver’s standard routine.

That information will be linked to the relevant emergency response guides and safety data sheets, and be made available to emergency personnel in real time, perhaps even upon dispatch, letting them know what they are facing at the scene of a crash or spill before they arrive.

“The idea is to make it as easy to use and to access as possible,” said Randy Starr of Blue Dot Solutions.

The next step will be to get feedback from businesses, emergency response personnel, and government agencies such as the FBI.

To that end, representatives from ORNL; businesses like Eastman Chemical, FedEx, and UPS; first responders at all levels of government; and partners such as the University of Kentucky and the Mississippi Department of Transportation came to UT and discussed various ideas and plans on how to move forward and possible tweaks to the system.

“It was a great opportunity for us all to get together and share some of our ideas and our thoughts and concerns,” said Professor Shashi Nambisan of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the faculty member leading the e-HM initiative at UT.

“This project is one that could have wide-ranging implications for years to come, so bringing together people that it will affect the most was critically important to developing an e-HM system that is based on broad stakeholder engagement.”

The STC began its current mission of promoting transportation safety through research and education in 1994 as part of the Center for Transportation Research in the College of Engineering.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,