“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
The (Often Unsung) Heroes
When it comes to risk-based planning in a community, emergency managers weigh the likelihood of the threat verses the potential for harm to the environment and human life. Certain threats may pose significant potential for loss to life and property but may have such a small likelihood of occurring that it is simply not worth spending the resources to prepare for that specific threat (e.g., nuclear disaster). Communities face different threats depending on geographic location, major industries, climate, or proximity to neighboring countries. However, there is one common threat facing all communities in the country: Hazardous materials (Hazmat) releases.
The (often unsung) heroes working to prepare our communities across America for Hazmat incidents are members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). To combat the growing threat of Hazmat incidents in the U.S., Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986. The EPCRA required each state to form a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) to enforce the requirements of the EPCRA in their respective states. Each SERC determined the best way to divide the state into LEPCs, giving each LEPC the responsibility of building Hazmat preparedness and response capabilities in their communities.
You don’t have to look far for case studies of Hazmat incidents and how they affect communities. The recent fire at the Chemtool Hazmat facility in Rockton, Ill. on June 14th is a good example of how residents, businesses, first responders and neighboring cities are all impacted by one Hazmat incident. With billowing smoke rising into the air from the chemical plant, first responders quickly evacuated everyone within a 1-mile radius of the facility due to the potential for Hazmat being released into the air. Schools were used as evacuation centers. One Hazmat incident put life, work, and school on hold for thousands and the lives of first responders in danger.
More recently, the impact on the environment and communities quickly became apparent after Hurricane Ida swept through Louisiana. An Exxon Mobile Corp. refinery in Baton Rouge released sulfer dioxide and hydrogen sulfide as Ida charged through. A broken pipeline poured crude oil near a bayou that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. In some areas, chemicals mixed with raw sewage released from chemical treatment plants that lost power. Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, was quoted saying, “We are totally not prepared for these types of events. We should be, however we are not.” One major natural disaster caused a chain reaction of Hazmat incidents across multiple communities. The stakes are high and far reaching.
As LEPCs have been working hard to “sharpen the axe” in preparation for potential Hazmat incidents through the years, many have faced significant challenges. In this blog, we highlight four challenges facing LEPCs with recommendations to follow as they work to build sustainable preparedness capabilities in their communities.
4 Challenges Facing LEPCs
1. Key Stakeholder (un)Involvement
2. Outdated Plans
3. Where to Begin?
4. Lack of Drills and Exercises
For LEPCs that experience some of these challenges, we encourage you to begin “sharpening the axe” and building a culture of preparedness in your communities that will last by implementing the recommendations listed under each challenge.
ASG has been at the forefront of building community-wide emergency preparedness capabilities for over 16 years, having conducted over 85 all-hazards, risk-based emergency response plans for organizations and communities around the globe. ASG has supported LEPCs through developing and implementing Hazmat ERPs. This process results in increased engagement with public and private stakeholders. By conducting the annual updates, we are able to continuously improve preparedness and establish LEPC goals for outreach and enhancing resilience. These efforts have helped LEPCs update their ERPs to comply with the new AWIA requirements and formulate strategies for ensuring the protection of vulnerable and underserved populations.
For a practical next step, we recommend all stakeholders in LEPCs take our Whole Community Engagement for Hazmat Planning course. We can provide the course through an in-person, live (virtual webinar) or online (flexible delivery through our online learning management system). We can provide customized pricing options based on your LEPC or state’s needs.
Here is what recent participants in this live webinar shared:
“Course was informative and well written considering the online application”
“Great course. I am going to recommend we get you to provide this course in other states”