CANUTEC: So much more than a 24/7 dangerous goods emergency hotline


Emergencies involving dangerous goods give first responders, such as paramedics, police, or firefighters, added responsibilities for handling the situation appropriately. Hazards can include explosives, toxic gases, flammable liquids, and corrosive substances. In responding to the hazard, critical decisions need to be made regarding public safety, protective equipment, and evacuation.

First responders know that, in such situations, the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre (CANUTEC) is there to answers their questions 24/7. CANUTEC Emergency Response Advisors are Transport Canada scientists who specialize in chemistry or a related field, and are trained in emergency response for hazardous materials. They also help coordinate communication with those who can support response efforts such as the carrier of the dangerous good involved, its manufacturer, government entities, and medical specialists.

CANUTEC advisors answering the emergency line are bilingual and experienced in interpreting technical information to provide timely guidance for each dangerous good. Examples of the information they can provide include:

  • dangerous goods’ properties and how they may interact with other substances;
  • fire, explosion, spill and leak mitigation techniques;
  • health hazards and first aid measures after exposure;
  • actions to protect people, property and the environment – such as evacuation distances; and
  • the type of clothing or equipment that can protect first responders, and how to decontaminate such equipment.

A job that goes well beyond responding to emergencies

A major safety program promoting the safe movement of people and goods throughout Canada since 1979, CANUTEC also help first responders by assisting training officers in creating realistic exercise scenarios. CANUTEC also participates in emergency exercises by taking part in phone simulations. Although “scheduling” simulations is not required, it is recommended if the scenario is elaborate, or if several groups will be performing the simulation in quick succession, such as during a training workshop.

Dangerous goods’ industry members (such as companies who transport dangerous goods), municipalities, emergency planning officers, and government organizations can also contact CANUTEC for information related to dangerous goods, including training, research, and simulations.

The role of CANUTEC goes well beyond helping first responders. CANUTEC jointly develops the Emergency Response Guidebook every four years, along with the U.S., Mexico and with the collaboration of Argentina. This guidebook is for use by emergency services personnel who may be the first to arrive at the scene of a transportation incident involving dangerous goods. It is a tool to help them quickly identify the hazards of the material(s) involved and to protect themselves and the general public during the initial response to the incident. The newest version of the guidebook, ERG2020, has recently been released. For more information, consult CANUTEC’s website.

Canadian consignors can also register to add CANUTEC’s 24-hour emergency telephone number on their dangerous goods shipping documents. The Registration Team maintains the registration database, whose information can be critical during emergencies. This team manages a database of 15,000 companies and over 2.8 million Safety Data Sheets.

Every year, CANUTEC helps improve the safety of Canadians by participating in about 450 simulations and dealing with 2200 incidents. Between the Registration team and the Centre, about 47,000 calls and emails are answered annually.

For more information, call CANUTEC’s information line: 613-992-4624.

I love my job! It is never boring and very fulfilling to help first responders on the frontline of dangerous good emergencies. I especially love when first responders take the time to share their experiences in the field and issues they encountered, so we can help them research tools and solutions, and adjust our in-house training and research. Every day I learn something new!

Nathalie Sempels,
Emergency Response Advisor since 2015

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