Emergencies

Better Safe Than Sorry

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By Lina Younes

Well, it’s that time of year. Hurricane Season 2013 is upon us. NOAA is predicting an active hurricane season for the Atlantic/Caribbean area. Even inland areas can suffer the effects of tropical storms such as strong winds, torrential rains, flooding, and even tornadoes after a hurricane has made landfall. While the most active month for hurricanes  in our area seems to be August, it is not unusual to see tropical storms towards the later part of the season ending December 1st.

So what should you do to get ready today?  Well, first of all, develop your own emergency kit and hurricane preparedness plan for you and your family. Here are some suggestions.

  •  In developing your emergency supplies kit, store up on canned food, bottled water, and other supplies like batteries.
  •  Place matches in a waterproof container.
  • Stock up on paper cups, plates, plastic utensils.
  •  Remember to stock up on pet food for your pets.
  • Have important family documents on hand in a portable waterproof container.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • Have books, games, activities for children.
  • Have a battery-powered portable radio.
  • Connect to NOAA’s Weather Radio . Visit this link for information on the frequencies and public service announcements.
  • Charge your cell phones in advance and have an extra phone battery on hand.
  • Have a manual can opener.
  • Around the house, clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Learn about hurricane evacuation routes in your area.
  • Using technology, you can sign up to get text messages from FEMA with updated information about the storm
  • Have emergency phone numbers on hand to report power outages with your local utility company.
  • Don’t forget to plan ahead to keep ensure your pets’ safety as well. They also need a pet disaster supply kit. You may need to take them to a local pet shelter in the event that you are evacuated.

Furthermore, in the event of a power outage in your area, never use a generator inside an enclosed area.  Generators are sources of carbon monoxide which may be lethal in higher concentrations.

By preparing in advance of inclement weather, you’ll be able to stock up on the necessary supplies while avoiding the madhouse at your local grocery story on the eve of the storm. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us? We love to hear from you.

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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EPA Stands Ready to Protect the Public from Everyday Emergencies

by Gilberto Irizarry

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.

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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I’m WARNing you….

By Christina Catanese

…no, you’re not in trouble.  In fact,  WARN is where you’d go as a drinking water or wastewater facility to get OUT of trouble.

WARN logoA Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) is a network of utilities helping other utilities  respond to and recover from emergencies. If a utility has been damaged or anticipates it could be damaged from a natural disaster or human-caused event, WARNs provide a network for the utility to get help.  This can take the form of personnel, equipment, and many other services.  Each state has its own WARN – check out this list to get information about WARNs near you.

Got a complicated main break that’s draining a storage tank, and need an odd-sized coupling to fix it?  Utilities can reach out to their WARN in this situation and get a spare from a neighboring facility to prevent outages for customers. Big storm cause a power failure?  WARNs have been used to respond to many storm incidents, using, for example, the common practice of sharing portable generators among utilities so a backup is available in case of a power outage.  Recently, utilities have been helping each other in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy struck to keep our drinking and surface waters treated and safe.  Read more about WARNs in these resources.

While participation and response in a WARN is voluntary, the success of the network depends on a strong base of willing utilities.  With a growing number of utilities in each state on board, the rest of us can focus on stocking up on canned food and batteries when a storm is on the way.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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After Hurricane Sandy

By Christina Catanese

Today in Philadelphia, life is beginning to return to normal after Hurricane Sandy.  Our buses, subways, and trains are up and running, most of the fallen tree branches have been cleared away from the streets and sidewalks, and the sun has even peeked through the clouds to help us all start to dry out.  But our concerns remain with those in other parts of the northeast facing a more difficult recovery.  Natural disasters are a reminder to all of us of the power of nature and the importance of being prepared.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States. Photo courtesy of NASA.

After a storm like Sandy, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe when it comes to water.

  • If you have concerns that your drinking water has been contaminated, don’t drink it.  Drink bottled water if it is available and hasn’t been exposed to floodwaters.  Otherwise, boil your water for one minute at a rolling boil to get rid of pathogens.  Learn more about emergency disinfection here.
  • Avoid contact with flood water, as it may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances.
  • If you have a private well and it has been flooded, do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock.  Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it has been tested and deemed safe.
  • If you have a septic system and it has been flooded, do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.
  • For water and wastewater facilities, check out these suggested post-hurricane activities to help facilities recover.

Get more information on what you can do to protect health and the environment after severe weather and flooding.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Networking to Improve Emergency Response

By Rich Weisman

As I watched the progression of Hurricane Isaac several weeks ago, I thought back to 2003 when Hurricane Isabel impacted my water system in Virginia and caused local schools to close. Water and wastewater utilities are vulnerable to threats such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and other natural and man-made disasters. Water systems are not often impacted during emergencies that may affect other aspects of a community, but when a disaster does impact a utility, they work diligently to restore services as quickly as possible. (My colleague Laura Flynn imagined a day without water as part of our blog series for Preparedness Month). Mutual assistance programs like the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, a network of utilities helping utilities, provide access to specialized resources needed to restore water services.

The Minnesota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network was activated in June when Duluth and surrounding areas experienced significant flooding that washed out roads and interrupted 911 service. Through the network, seven communities asked for and received assistance in the form of water pumps and support personnel. Several years ago, the Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network helped respond to a Salmonella contamination incident in the city of Alamosa. Water utilities from around the state provided crews and equipment to help plan a response to the outbreak, and then flush, disinfect and sample 49 miles of the Alamosa water distribution system.

For larger emergencies, federal agencies often provide assistance when local and state resources are exhausted. EPA’s water emergency response program has developed tools, resources and training opportunities to prepare water utilities to respond to and recover from disasters, and to help utilities practice navigating this process.

One resource that helps utilities plan for and practice their responses to emergencies is a tabletop exercise tool that EPA developed. The tool contains 15 scenarios that address an “all-hazards” approach to emergency preparedness and response as well as introduces users to the potential impacts of climate change on the water utility sector. Each scenario has a customizable situation manual, discussion questions and PowerPoint presentation. Utilities can modify these materials, allowing them to conduct a tabletop exercise to meet their needs.

And, since finding the resources needed to recover from disasters is critical, we provide information about where to find federal funding that supports disaster recovery. In all these efforts, EPA works closely with our partners and stakeholders in local communities, states and other federal agencies.

About the author: Rich Weisman has worked at EPA since 2006 and currently serves as Team Leader for the Water Emergency Response Team in the Water Security Division of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. He can be reached at weisman.richard@epa.gov.

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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What About Our Pets?

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes
This summer we’ve had our share of weather events from intense heat waves, unexpected storms wildfires, hurricanes and floods. Given that we still have nearly three more months of hurricane season, the threat of tropical storms is still there. While I’ve written several blogs on having a plan for these unexpected events, there is one thing that I haven’t addressed. What shall we do with our pets in an emergency?
If you have pets at home, make sure to make plans on how to ensure their safety before a storm or emergency. Most emergency shelters do not allow pets. So where are you going to take them if you have to evacuate your home or seek disaster refuge? As you develop your own emergency plan, take into consideration what you are going to do with your pets before, during and after a storm.
  • In advance of a storm, contact your local animal shelters and local animal control services for information on protecting your pets in an emergency.
  • The American Veterinary Medical Association also provides information and resources to assist veterinarians and animal owners to prepare for animal safety in the event of a natural disaster.
  • Develop a pet disaster supply kit for your animal. Make sure you have the proper identification, immunization records, a pet carrier, and the like. If you have a cat, also have a portable litter box and fresh litter handy to take with you in case you evacuate.
With the proper planning you can make sure that you and your pet will survive the emergency as best possible. Since September in National Preparedness Month, now would be a good time to get ready before it is too late.
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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Being Prepared

By Tom Damm

It wasn’t prophetic, just prudent to do a Healthy Waters blog earlier this year on preparing for water emergencies.  Since then, the Mid-Atlantic region has been pounded by a hurricane and drenching storms that have wreaked havoc in flooded communities across the area.

It’s time to revisit and broaden that topic since September is National Preparedness Month.  We can’t be reminded too often of the need to be ready for natural disasters and other emergencies.

That was clear when our EPA offices in a Philadelphia high-rise started to vibrate in the recent earthquake, and we trudged down flights of steps to evacuate and get over to a staging area.

The Department of Homeland Security encourages all of us to:

As we move on after marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there will be activities across our area to promote emergency preparedness at home, at work and in the community.

Take advantage of these opportunities and check out these websites sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA for more information.  And share with us any practical steps you’ve taken to be prepared.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Maintaining Healthy Waters in Emergencies

Is your water supply secure in case of an emergency or natural disaster?

By Christina Catanese

The CDC’s recent blog about emergency preparedness for the zombie apocalypse got us thinking about Healthy Waters in emergency situations, undead or otherwise.  How can the safety of water and the health of people be maintained during an emergency, and what preparations can be taken in advance to be ready for any issues you may face before, during and after an event?  Whether you are a citizen trying to protect your own health or a facility operator responsible for protecting the health of many others in your community, the best time to plan to protect your source of water is before an emergency.  And whether the emergency involves zombies, a hurricane, or floods, preparedness for water emergencies is key.

Everyone depends on a safe supply of water to operate their business, a hospital or school.  Water is needed to fight fires and it restores hope in communities hit hard by natural disasters.  But natural disasters or other emergencies can disrupt drinking water supplies and wastewater disposal systems.  Conservation or emergency disinfection orders can be issued to affected water system consumers in the aftermath of an event, if the safety of water supplies cannot be immediately ensured.

The tornado outbreak at the end of April 2011 hit states in the southeast the hardest, but in Region 3, storms in Virginia resulted in damage to a number of water systems in the southwestern part of the state, mainly because of power being knocked out by high winds. In some areas, boil water advisories were issued because the water was not safe to drink.  Water systems and water treatment plants need power to treat and distribute water, so it’s important to restore power as soon as possible, either through emergency generators or priority restoration of service.  This protects health of people (by ensuring that affected populations have access to safe drinking water), pets and water bodies (by making sure that waste gets treated before it is discharged to rivers).

Have your own septic system?  Be aware of actions you need to take to protect you and your family if your system becomes flooded.  Have a private well for your drinking water?  Check out our blog “Is your well well?” for information about how to maintain the quality of your private well or disinfect it if necessary.

There are both planning and recovery efforts in any emergency event.  That’s why EPA has provided resources on suggested pre- and post- disaster event activities to water facilities, like tabletop exercises, staff training, and facility evaluation.  EPA has also provided grants to purchase emergency generators so they have a backup source of power in case of an outage.  To learn more about emergency generators see our regional factsheet.

There’s also the Water/Wastewater Agencies Response Network, a network that lets water utilities in an emergency situation request the help of other utilities, which can provide emergency assistance, from people to equipment.  It can also be used for smaller, non-disaster emergencies, as it was recently during a water main break in Harrisburg, when nearby water companies responded to the PaWARN activation to assist with the repairs. If your utility is not a member, contact your WARN Chair.

Have more questions about water security in the Mid Atlantic RegionFind out who to ask at EPA.

Have you assembled an emergency kit in your house, or taken any other preparatory measures for an emergency?  Do you know of any preparations being done in your community?  Get involved with community based resiliency!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Incendio en el cielo: respuesta a una emergencia

Un fuerte estallido me sacó de la cama. Miré a mi sorprendido esposo que gritaba, “vamos a buscar a los nenes”. Me paré mientras nuestra casa de concreto se estremecía y agarré el pilar de hierro de la cama para no tambalear. “Un terremoto”, logré decir mientras salíamos de nuestra habitación y noté la hora: la 12:25 de la madrugada. En el pasillo, mi hija mayor me abrazó mientras preguntaba lo que estaba pasando. Afortunadamente, mis hijos menores no se despertaron. En nuestro comedor, las mallas metálicas que cubrían las ventanas cayeron todas al piso y la lámpara colgante se jamaqueaba de lado a lado. Mi cuñado llamó por teléfono y nos dijo que había un incendio en el cielo. De inmediato pensé que se trataba de un accidente aéreo. Abrí la puerta lateral de la casa y vi cómo cambiaba el cielo de colores de rojo a anaranjado y violeta. Buscamos una radio y nos enteramos enseguida de la causa del caos: un fuego en la instalación de tanques de almacenamiento de petróleo de la compañía Caribbean Petroleum (CAPECO, por sus siglas en inglés) que queda a menos de una milla de nuestro hogar.

image of fire at petroleum plantEl fin de semana que tanto habíamos anhelado durante casi un año—la celebración de nuestra fiesta de Halloween, se convirtió para mí en una respuesta a una emergencia. A los diez minutos de la explosión, llamé al jefe de nuestra oficina de respuesta y remediación de emergencias quien a su vez se comunicó con el Centro Nacional de Respuesta a Emergencias.

Como especialista en asuntos públicos en la oficina de la EPA en San Juan, he tenido que trabajar en emergencias de menor escala. Sin embargo, esta se trataba de una verdadera amenaza ambiental ya que varios tanques contenían combustible para aviones, Bunker C, diésel y otros derivados de petróleo que estaban ardiendo en llamas. La instalación de CAPECO está localizada en la Carretera #28 en un área que abarca tres pueblos: Guaynabo, Bayamón y Cataño y se encuentra frente a una base militar grande, el Fuerte Buchanan. La Bahía de San Juan está a tan sólo dos millas de distancia y varios humedales y cuerpos de agua de menor escala se encuentran alrededor. Por esa razón, la emergencia me tocó muy de cerca, a parte del hecho de que vivo cerca de la instalación, sino también porque viajo por esa misma carretera a las cinco da la mañana cuando voy al gimnasio en el Fuerte Buchanan. Los tanques son visibles de la carretera.

Las primeras horas fueron frenéticas mientras las agencias federales, estatales y municipales trataron de contener el fuego y activaron todos los protocolos de emergencia para asegurar que los ciudadanos en esa región altamente poblada no fueran afectados. Un Centro de Comando de Incidentes fue establecido a las 18 horas del evento en un centro deportivo en San Juan y fuimos desplegados allí para trabajar. Los medios y la ciudadanía necesitan información exacta. Nosotros trabajamos arduamente para brindarla.

Tengo que decir que aprendí más de esta experiencia de lo que había aprendido en mis siete años con la EPA. Aunque apagamos ya el fuego, ahora el trabajo real comienza. Los mantendré informados.

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

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 does your community prepare for emergencies?

Hurricanes, spring floods, and other incidents can all wreak havoc with our daily lives. For communities, preparing can range from marking evacuation routes to setting up public shelters to preparing for large amounts of debris. Either way, it pays to think ahead. September is National Preparedness Month.

How does your community prepare 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.

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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