By Mathy Stanislaus
In 2014, after several catastrophic chemical facility incidents, I represented EPA as a Tri-Chair for the creation of The Report for the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, to recognize the central role of local community preparedness to advance safety of chemical plants. Local communities – working through Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) – are the lynchpin to advancing safety of chemical plants, as well as other hazards such as the transport of chemicals and oil by rail. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), these local and state organizations receive information from more than 400,000 chemical plants about the volumes and hazards of chemicals. (This contrasts with the 12,500 chemical plants that we have direct oversight through the Risk Management Planning Program.) They then have the responsibility to analyze the information and develop plans for the safety of their communities from chemical plant accidents, working with local community members and organizations, as well as representatives from the chemical plants.
Enhancing Local Planning under EPCRA
To strengthen local planning efforts, we released a new guide for LEPCs that encourages collaboration through outreach to facilities, illustrating the importance of public safety and the need to comply with EPCRA, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent chemical accidents. This guide discusses the requirements of the EPCRA, roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in local preparedness efforts, how to develop an emergency response plan, tools for planning and response, and how to enhance community engagement and public access to information. LEPCs and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) play a key role in meeting the goals of EPCRA.
We also recognize that members of the public have a role to play in assisting the LEPC or TEPC to understand the unique needs of the community regarding communication about the chemical risks and emergency response procedures. For example, individuals with special medical needs, such as the elderly, disabled/handicapped, children, and those with transportation challenges. Tailoring outreach to meet the specific considerations of the local community enables effective participation in the planning process and an efficient response to ensure safety of the public.
LEPCs and TEPCs notify the public of their activities and hold public meetings to discuss the emergency plan with the community, educate the public about chemical risks, and share information on what is to be done during an emergency (i.e., evacuation or shelter-in-place). LEPCs and TEPCs ensure procedures are in place for notifying the public when a chemical accident occurs (via reverse 911 or other system) and that the public understands what to do when they receive that information.
We’re also working with industry associations to develop and distribute similar communications to plant managers and process safety officials to clarify their role and responsibilities in engaging LEPCs and communities in emergency preparedness and response planning efforts. Efforts focusing on community involvement, evacuation and shelter-in-place planning, environmental justice issues, and vulnerable populations are critical to enhancing chemical facility safety, for both employees and the surrounding communities. It takes engagement from all partners to make an impactful change and increase chemical facility safety for those working in and living around hundreds of thousands of chemical plants around the nation.
While we are aware of extensive engagement in communities throughout the nation to collectively address the issues mentioned above, we recognize that there are communities where industry, government, and community partners would benefit from support from the EPA in strengthening their local efforts. I understand this importance and encourage communities to utilize existing tools and resources to work together to achieve local goals.
Tools and Resources
To assist state, tribal, and local agencies in collecting, managing, and using this information, we worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO). CAMEO (http://www2.epa.gov/cameo) is a system of software applications used to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. CAMEO assists chemical emergency planners and responders to access, store, and evaluate information critical for developing emergency plans. CAMEO is updated frequently to address needs raised by users throughout the nation. The most recent upgrades will help support local communities and first responders in their planning efforts.
Together, we can work to continue to strengthen the preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities. We are committed to continuing our support to all of you working every day to protect human health and the environment.