About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs.
Recently, Dan Heister mentioned the Incident Command System. The Incident Command System is part of how we respond to emergencies under the National Response Framework (NRF). We are responsible for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #10, Oil and Hazardous Materials Response under the NRF. An example of ESF #10 activities was after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita we collected and properly disposed of thousands of paint cans, propane tanks from gas grills, and other hazardous household items that were tossed around.
Seeing the destruction that Hurricane Rita left on a community that was located along the Gulf in Cameron Parish was absolutely unbelievable. Every house in this community was swept away! The only thing left of the community was a few pilings, the concrete of the carport bays, and a couple of child’s toys. When I first saw it, I asked the group I was with, “You mean there was really a community here?” We were later told that the debris field from the community ended up about 9 miles north in the Marsh.
The Storm Surge from a major hurricane can be incredible. In Cameron Parish, the only structure left standing was the Courthouse. We were told later that the Storm Surge from Hurricane Rita was up to 20 feet. In fact, we were also told that the entire Parish was under water after Hurricane Rita came ashore. Because of the destruction from Hurricane Rita, we set three hazardous waste collection points within Cameron Parish. All of these activities were under ESF #10.
We have been involved with several major disasters including the World Trade Center, Space Shuttle, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, etc. We have learned the need for better preparedness and the need to utilize other EPA employees that are field trained. We tested this concept called the Response Support Corp during the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery. We have also learned that we need to set a goal of being able to manage more incidences at once. To improve our preparedness, we have goals within the Current Strategic Plan.
In closing, we are moving into the peak of Hurricane Season, typically August and September. If a hurricane is heading your way, please secure paint cans, propane tanks, etc. in a place where they won’t be swept away. We don’t want to find your paint cans or propane tanks in a marsh or along the side of the road.