Most everyone is familiar with the sights and sounds from major environmental and natural disasters. In recent years, images and stories from disasters like Superstorm Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Joplin Tornadoes were reported all over the media. My office at EPA played a significant part in the overall federal government response to help the country recover and rebuild from these incidents. But over the course of any given day, month or year, the incidents that make the national news are only a small part of the work we do.
Each year, more than 20,000 emergencies involving oil spills or the release hazardous substances are reported in the United States. One day, there might be an oil spill from a business that threatens to pollute nearby streams and soil. The next day, a fire at an industrial plant could potentially threaten the air quality for a nearby neighborhood. Or someone might discover abandoned drums full of chemicals that need to be identified and disposed. In many cases, state and local authorities need additional support to clean it up, or the people responsible can’t be found. That’s when we are called in to help.
We are called because we have expertise and technology to effectively lead and manage emergencies and cleanups to protect human health and the environment. We have about 250 highly-trained, experienced On-Scene Coordinators, who oversee emergency response efforts and are ready to deploy anywhere in the country, often at a moment’s notice. We have some of the world’s most advanced response equipment that enables us to assess air, water and soil quality to make sure that they don’t pose a threat to the people who live nearby. Each incident is unique in its challenges, and they often call for innovative approaches, but in each case, we bring all of our knowledge and capabilities to the table in order to get the job done.
For more information on Emergency Management at EPA, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/
About the author: Gilberto “Tito” Irizarry is a 15-year veteran of EPA’s Emergency Response program. He served as an On-Scene Coordinator in EPA’s New England Region for seven years before coming to Washington DC to lead the Agency’s Program Operations and Coordination Division in the Office of Emergency Management.