EPA Rides to the Rescue: An Overview of Operations

By Keith Glenn

Fourth installment on our Emergency Response series. 

Prior to the first drop of water or wind gust reaching New York or New Jersey from Hurricane Irene, EPA had deployed personnel to critical emergency management locations lead by the state and local offices of emergency management. EPA on-scene coordinators rode out the storms in Trenton, Brooklyn and Albany to commence the development of post-storm response and recovery strategies. Following the Emergency Declaration by President Obama, EPA began to receive mission assignments from FEMA to conduct rapid needs assessments throughout the impact areas, facilitate a program for the collection of household hazardous waste, coordinate debris removal programs with other government agencies, provide inspections of critical water infrastructures, and retrieve orphan containers containing oil and hazardous substances. 

Within a few hours of receiving mission assignments, EPA teams were deployed to the field with concentrations in Greene, Delaware, Schoharie, and Essex Counties in New York and Passaic, Morris, and Bergen Counties in New Jersey. As the early days progressed, hazardous waste collection stations were established, curbside collection of household hazardous wastes occurred, boat operations for reconnaissance and recovery of orphan containers commenced, and aerial surveillance of debris lines began.    

Just as efforts started to become manageable and routine, Tropical Storm Lee hit additional areas of New Jersey and New York, causing more damage in existing affected municipalities and creating new work areas. The process of meeting governing officials to establish a response and recovery effort resurged and additional emergency personnel were deployed to Broome, Tioga, and Chenango Counties in NY and in Sussex County, NJ.  At the peak of operations, over 160 EPA and contractor personnel were involved. 

It goes without saying that many people at EPA assisted with the successful operations that continue in response to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. From generating account numbers, transferring funds to contracts, holding press events, providing moral support, deploying at a moment’s notice, and many additional tasks, EPA Region 2 supplied much needed assistance throughout the response. Countless hours and immense support display the personal dedication of many regional employees. This was not the “next big one” that most people predict, but it was a trial as to how organized, prepared, and committed EPA Region 2 personnel are. 

Additional information regarding EPA’s response to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee can be found at www.epaosc.org/R2HurricaneIreneResponse and http://www.epa.gov/superfund/accomp/news/hurricane_irene.htm

About the Author: Keith Glenn is an On-Scene Coordinator working on emergency responses throughout EPA Region 2. When not in the field, Keith works in the Regional Emergency Operations Center located in Edison, NJ. During the response efforts associated with the 2011 storms in NY and NJ, Keith acted as the Situation Unit Leader as part of a command structure involving hundreds of responders covering over 1,000 square miles of impacted lands.