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Improving Access to HAZMAT Transportation Information

Transporting hazardous materials (HAZ­MAT), especially ammunition and explosives, carries
inherent risks and must be executed with the utmost attention and care. A mistake, such as mislabeling or incorrectly packaging HAZMAT, could be catastrophic. The Department of Defense (DOD) has an excellent record of safely distributing ammunition and other HAZMAT to the warfighter, but until recently a common source for obtaining and sharing critical HAZMAT knowledge did not exist.

In January 2009, the Army Defense Ammunition Center launched the HAZMAT Transportation Community of Practice (CoP) portal, which can be accessed through both the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) website and the Battle Command Knowledge System (BCKS). A CoP is a collection of people who have a common interest in a particular subject and who interact regularly to broaden their knowledge on that subject. The CoP portal connects the HAZMAT transportation community and provides a forum for sharing expert knowledge, lessons learned, and best practices.

Knowledge Management via the Internet

Our warfighters need access to critical information so they can act quickly and decisively. Recognizing this, DOD launched a major initiative to embrace knowledge management by leveraging the power of the Internet and the latest information technology. Knowledge management disciplines allow the warfighter to obtain critical and relevant context-rich information, connect and collaborate with experts and colleagues, and accelerate and enhance situational performance and decisionmaking to achieve mission objectives in real time.

Accurate and timely information has become more important than ever before as U.S. military forces are stretched across the globe conducting numerous and varied operations. To make operations as efficient and safe as possible, those with information must share what they know. Unfortunately, an extraordinary number of seasoned DOD employees will soon reach retirement age, and DOD will lose decades of experience and knowledge with the oncoming wave of retirements. CoP web portals, like the HAZMAT Transportation CoP portal, are among the tools DOD can use to capture that knowledge before it is lost.

Another CoP portal is the Ammunition CoP, which was launched by the Army Defense Ammunition Center in 2008 and resides on the Defense Acquisition University’s Acquisition Community Connection website (https://acc.dau.mil/ammo). This CoP brings the ammunition community together to discuss various ammunition-related issues, such as information systems, operations, training, and logistics.

HAZMAT Transportation CoP

The Army Defense Ammunition Center is DOD’s focal point for ammunition knowledge and logistics support. Its Training Directorate is responsible for training professionals in explosives safety, logistics operations, transportability, and the demilitarization and disposal of explosives and other HAZMAT. Over the years, the number of students requiring training in these areas has increased significantly, and as a result, the demand for post-training resources has also increased. The HAZMAT Transportation CoP helps meet this demand.

The HAZMAT Transportation CoP is an interactive knowledge base that enables transportation professionals to communicate and share their experiences distributing ammunition and other HAZMAT around the world. The CoP is an excellent resource for lessons learned, best practices, and links to HAZMAT regulations, policies, and other relevant topics of interest. One of this CoP’s key features is the online discussion forum in which members can ask the community-at-large questions. Topics run the gamut of HAZMAT transportation—from shipping papers, marking, labeling, placarding, and packaging to compatibility of materials shipped together and emergency response information. The Army Defense Ammunition Center’s HAZMAT instructors, who have many years of experience shipping HAZMAT throughout the world, regularly monitor the forums and answer any questions left unaddressed.

The Army Defense Ammunition Center will also use the portal to push timely and relevant HAZMAT transportation information to the CoP members. For example, members can visit the portal to find information and schedules for any of the center’s upcoming HAZMAT courses and training sessions.

The CoP is especially helpful for Soldiers and transportation personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where access to HAZMAT experts and resources is limited. They can now learn within hours, rather than months or years, correct HAZMAT handling practices and apply that knowledge immediately and safely.

Because of the hazards associated with shipping HAZMAT and ammunition, numerous domestic and international regulations must be followed. Many countries have agreed to HAZMAT-related safety standards, but some countries have unique HAZMAT requirements, especially regarding its transportation. Even the most seasoned and experienced shippers may sometimes have difficulty interpreting and having full awareness of each country’s various requirements. Because of this, the Army Defense Ammunition Center created the HAZMAT Transportation CoP to provide HAZMAT professionals ongoing training and assistance.

How the Portal Works

The CoP portal has four major sections specific to the modes of transportation: commercial air, military air, land, and sea. It also has a section for frequently asked questions and links to other relevant websites.

Under each transportation mode, information is categorized by topic. For example, under commercial air, information is categorized into commercial air marking checklist, segregation/compatibility, and shipping papers. CoP members can initiate or participate in forum discussions within any topic or explore past discussions to find the information they need. A “popular tags” capability allows members to see the most often read discussions and searches. Similar to the popular tags, members can have links to their own favorite resources. To further the learning experience, the portal also facilitates the sharing of videos and other media.

The portal establishes links to a network of HAZMAT professionals in the field. Because each member must create a profile (with brief background information), it is easy to find members with specific expertise or interests. When a CoP member creates his user profile, he may include keywords that allow others to identify him easily. The CoP portal users can develop a list of contacts and ask others to join their network—a useful resource for entry-level Soldiers and civilians.

While seasoned professionals from the Army Defense Ammunition Center will be responsible
for maintaining and adding the majority of the content to the portal, members can take ownership of the portal’s development by suggesting ways to share knowledge, so the portal constantly adapts to meet the needs of its members.

How to Access the Portal

Those who have AKO accounts can access the portal through AKO or navigate directly through the BCKS professional forums at https://forums.bcks.army.mil/. If you are interested in becoming a community member and do not have an AKO account, you can register at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/pages/reg/start.ext. Contractors must have a military sponsor to obtain access to AKO and BCKS. Once you are logged-in on AKO or BCKS, do a keyword search for HAZMAT CoP wto access the portal.

For a workforce as widespread as the HAZMAT community, using the CoP portal improves transportation operations and enhances the Defense Ammunition Center’s support for the 21st century warfighter. It also builds on the Army’s efforts to transform itself into a net-centric, knowledge-based force. The Army Defense Ammunition Center knows ammunition, and the HAZMAT Transportation CoP portal provides a critical tool to help Soldiers do their ammunition mission safer, faster, and better.

Dr. Upton R. Shimp is the associate director of training and operations at the Army Defense Ammunition Center in McAlester, Oklahoma. He holds a Ph.D. degree in occupational education from Oklahoma State University.

Christine L. Holiday is the knowledge management officer at the Army Defense Ammunition Center. She holds a master’s degree in library science from George Peabody College.

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