emergency preparedness

Working Together to Test Our Resiliency and Protect Our Critical Infrastructure

By Nitin Natarajan

Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:

  • increased temperatures,
  • sea level rise,
  • decreased permafrost,
  • increased heavy precipitation events, and the
  • increased frequency of wildfires

We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.

At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur.  We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.

However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.

For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities.  And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.

Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:

  • incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
  • linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
  • providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.

As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.

I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Be Prepared

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Preparedness logoSeptember is National Preparedness Month – a time to take basic steps to improve our resilience and readiness for natural disasters and other emergencies.

With the Atlantic hurricane season in full swing, we should all remember to plan with our families to be able to quickly and safely leave our homes when severe weather threatens.  We also take this time in September as a way to pay tribute to those who rush to the scenes of disasters like police and firefighters for their dedication to our safety and security.

How can you be ready?  Make a plan, inform your family and neighbors of your plans, test your plan, gather food, water and other supplies for the few days you may be out of your home, and don’t forget your pets.

You can also sign up for local alerts to keep current on weather situations; document valuables; share telephone numbers and keep your cell phone charged as severe weather approaches your area.  The www.Ready.gov website has resources to assist you further as you prepare.

EPA, working with local responders such as police, fire and haz-mat, as well as local water companies, continues to assist with preparedness efforts.  In the Mid-Atlantic region, EPA sponsors training and exercises to ensure that your water company is aware of how severe weather could impact their operations and necessary steps to improve resiliency.  These efforts ensure that there is water when the power goes out and that it remains safe for consumers to drink, cook and bathe.  Keeping the water flowing also ensures firefighters have water to fight fires triggered by lightning strikes.

Throughout the month of September, EPA will be sharing tips with local water companies to guide them in their preparedness efforts to keep your drinking water safe, no matter the weather.  Please consider doing your part to prepare yourself, your family and your pets.

 

About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for over 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Witness to a Flash Flood

by Amanda Pruzinsky

Amanda's view from inside during the flash flood

Amanda’s view during the flash flood

On Saturday, July 30, my boyfriend and I visited Ellicott City, Maryland to sightsee its historic downtown despite the rainy day.  No one had any way of knowing that an otherwise ordinary day would end in such devastation.  Everyone was chatting about the rain when an alarm hit our smart phones.  Another summer storm, another flash flood warning, everyone glances at their phones and continues on with their evening.

Its 8:11 p.m., only a few minutes after the flash flood warning to our phones.  The heavy rainstorm had turned into the warned flash flood in less time than I can comprehend.  Everyone is glued to the windows in the front of the restaurant yelling over the sound of the raging water, watching even after the basement filled with water, power went out, and alarms came on. We continued watching for over an hour as the river of brown water swept away cars, rolled huge dumpsters, toppled street signs, cut the power lines, and raged like it would last forever.

By 9:33 p.m., the flood retreated and we took to the street to find our car while rescue squads ran in groups down the hill with large yellow rafts. The streets were full of terrified people, all looking unbelievably at the vast holes in the streets and buildings, totaled cars, and wreckage strewn before us.

My heart goes out to all of the people who were there, for the homes and businesses destroyed, and to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives.

These types of weather events happen very suddenly and there is only so much one can do to prepare.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an excellent resource for information on what to do in disasters, such as flash floods, and the agency has a downloadable FEMA mobile app as well. EPA also has helpful information, including natural disaster preparedness and response tips, flood resilience checklist, flood risk management resources, and flood cleanup resources for your home or businesses.

Hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, droughts, and wildfires are increasing in frequency, intensity, or length. Communities are taking action and investing in their continued safety.  EPA is partnering with other national and international programs, states, localities, tribes, and communities to develop policies and provide technical assistance, analytical tools, and outreach support on climate change issues.

On the news, I hear plans being discussed to rebuild Ellicott City to be even stronger and more resilient than before. In the height of all of the devastation, there is hope for the future.

 

About the Author: Amanda Pruzinsky is a physical scientist for the Water Protection Division in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region working to support all of the water programs with a focus on data management, analysis, and communication.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap graphic identifierThis weekend, the East Coast is preparing for the potentially record-breaking Winter Storm Jonas. So whether you’re waiting in a long line at the grocery store, already holed up at home, or enjoying the warm weather someplace far away, here’s a little snow-related reading to keep you occupied.

Are You Ready for a Snowstorm?
At the first mention of inclement weather, we often make a mad dash to the grocery store or hardware store to stock up on supplies. EPA’s Lina Younes shared some tips on how to avoid the panic and stay safe during severe storms.

Read about them in her blogs Don’t Panic. Be Prepared and Are you Ready for a Snowstorm?

The Importance of Snowpack
Long-term trends in snowpack provide important evidence that climate-related shifts are underway, and highlight the seriousness of water-resource and drought issues that Western states such as California currently face.

EPA scientist Mike Kolian explains more about snowpack as an environmental health indicator in the blog The Importance of Snowpack.

What Happens to Road Salt after the Snow has Melted?
Road salts are an important tool for making roads safer during ice and snowstorms. Every winter about 22 million tons of road salt and other de-icers are used nationwide. What happens to all that road salt after the snow melts? Is it bad for the environment?

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer provides an answer in the blog Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Dog outside in the snow.

When not out in the snow with friends, enjoy the EPA Research Recap!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Getting Off To A Good Start

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As many of us are still in the spirit of getting off to a good start in the New Year, I believe it is timely to discuss emergency planning at home so that we can be ready for whatever nature might send our way this year.

As we have often stated during the hurricane season and now during the winter months, it’s important to prepare today in order to be safer tomorrow.  I’m sure that many of you have witnessed how there seems to be panic shopping at local supermarkets and hardware stores whenever there are reports of snow storms or hurricanes. So why not stock up on the basic necessities that you will need in the event of an emergency? How can you get ready?

  • Stock up on batteries and flashlights when they are on sale.
  • Have a battery powered radio at hand.
  • Have bottled water at hand in case of an emergency.
  • Stock up on canned goods or non-perishable food.
  • If you have infants and young children, stock up on baby formula, diapers, baby wipes, etc.
  • Don’t forget your pets.  Identify where you can shelter your pets in the event that you may have to evacuate.
  • Have a list of your prescriptions and emergency papers on hand in a safe place in the event that you may need to evacuate.
  • When developing your family plan, make sure you also develop a contingency plan for your elderly relatives or those with limited mobility in the event of an emergency.
  • Something that I learned last summer all to well, fill your tank with gas and have some cash on hand before a major storm because it may be difficult to get these services after a storm or black out.
  • Get the emergency numbers for your local utilities and basic services.
  • Sign up to receive instant messages with updated news and emergency information.
  • In the event of a power outage, NEVER USE A GENERATOR INSIDE. Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning from generator exhaust.

Remember, basic planning will keep you and your loved ones safe. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: How have you prepared for emergencies?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Hurricanes, spring floods, and other incidents can all wreak havoc with our daily lives. Here at EPA, we’re ready to respond in an official way. For individual people, preparing can range from keeping extra food and water to making evacuation plans. Either way, it pays to think ahead. In fact, September is National Preparedness Month.

How have you prepared for emergencies?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Huracanes, inundaciones y otros incidentes pueden arruinar nuestras vidas cotidianas. Aquí en EPA, estamos listos para responder de manera oficial. Para los individuos, los preparativos pueden comprender el almacenar alimentos y agua adicionales, así como hacer planes de evacuación. De cualquier manera, es bueno anticipar las cosas. De hecho, septiembre es el Mes Nacional de Preparación.

¿Cómo se ha preparado para las emergencias?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting Ready for Gustav and Hanna!

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.

There’s a flurry of activity today at EPA Region 6 . . . it’s Hurricane Season! This time it’s Gustav and as usual, it’s always on Labor Day Weekend! We are getting ready for what we think will be a pretty sizable hurricane. As discussed previously in Dan Heister’s blog on Incident Command, we have designated an Incident Commander, an Operations Section Chief, a Planning Section Chief and a Logistics Section Chief. We are checking on staff availability for next week, particularly in our Response Support Corp. Since Gustav is expected to make landfall somewhere in Texas or Louisiana on late Monday or Tuesday, we expect to be in full mode next week.

Within EPA, we manage major incidences through something called the Regional Incident Coordination Team (RICT). The RICT has been meeting to discuss plans for activation. EPA is coordinating with both Louisiana and Texas through conference calls. In fact, we have added a section to our website on hurricane preparedness. This page is also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Even though Gustav making landfall is still days away, it is always best to “lean forward” in preparation for the worst. In Region 6 that is what we are doing . . . preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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¡Preparándose para Gustav y Hanna!

La autora: Mary Kemp labora actualmente como Coordinadora de Seguridad del Territorio Nacional en la Oficina Regional de Dallas, TX. Mary comenzó en 1985 y ha trabajado en los programas de asbesto, Superfund y aire.

Hoy a un revuelo de actividad en la Región 6 de EPA…es la temporada de huracanes! Esta vez se trata de Gustav y, como siempre, coincide con el fin de semana feriado del Día del Trabajo! Estamos preparándonos para lo que creemos será un huracán de gran envergadura. Como se discutió previamente en el blog de Dan Heister sobre el Comando de Incidentes, hemos designado un comandante de incidentes, un jefe de sección de operaciones, un jefe de sección de planificación y un jefe de sección para logística. También estamos verificando la disponibilidad del personal para la siguiente semana, en particular nuestra corporación de apoyo para respuesta a emergencias. Como esperamos que Gustav toque tierra en algún lugar entre Texas y Luisiana tarde el lunes o martes, esperamos estar trabajando a todo vapor la semana próxima.

Dentro de EPA, manejamos eventos importantes mediante lo que llamamos el Equipo Regional para la Coordinación de Incidentes (RICT, por sus siglas en inglés). El RICT se ha estado reuniéndose para discutir los planes de activación. EPA está coordinando tanto con Luisiana como Texas por medio de llamadas de conferencia telefónicas. De hecho, también hemos añadido una sección a nuestro sitio Web para preparativos de huracanes en inglés, en español, chino, y vietnamita.

A pesar de que Gustav todavía está a días de distancia de arribar, siempre es mejor estar “en avanzada” en preparación para lo peor. En la Región 6 eso es lo que estamos haciendo…preparándonos para lo peor, pero esperando que suceda lo mejor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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