In the wake of several significant hazardous materials incidents between 1984 and 1985, including the release of 40 tons of Methyl Isocyanate from a pesticide facility in Bhopa, India and a similar leak of Aldicarb Oxime and four other chemicals from a pesticide facility in Institute, WV, the U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The main goals of this legislation were to require and support emergency planning for chemical releases and provide local government and citizens with information about hazardous substances.
Almost 40 years later, the LEPCs created through this legislation are struggling to comply with the basic provisions of EPCRA. In 2018, America’s Water Infrastructure Act amended EPCRA with several additional provisions to improve emergency notifications to community water systems and engage these system operators in planning.
The LEPC represents the model organization of the whole community as the required membership includes the public, chemical facilities, responders, elected officials, the media, among other stakeholders. There is much potential for these organizations to prepare their communities for the inevitable hazardous material incident and create community resilience.
Each year, there are approximately 20-30 thousand hazmat incidents according to the National Response Center database. These incidents result from chemical releases at both fixed and mobile sources causing thousands of people to evacuate the area, approximately 1,000 hospitalizations, injuries, and deaths, respectively, and $100M in damages.
Having worked with over 100 LEPCs across the nation, Alliance Solutions Group, Inc. (ASG) has developed emergency response plans, conducted exercises, delivered training, and advised community leaders on improving engagement. In 2016, ASG partnered with Georgia Tech and FEMA to develop courses that would bolster LEPCs and improve crisis leadership during hazmat incidents. This ongoing, nation-wide experience has led to the following list of best practices.
- Reconvene the LEPC under a hybrid model (both in person and virtual). Getting stakeholders together in person improves relationships. Allowing virtual participation enables greater participation from those that may be unable or unlikely to travel to the meeting. It also supports the next recommendation.
- Invite an interesting presenter who can share cases studies, best practices, and lessons learned. Invite presenters from different disciplines to keep it interesting and learn different perspectives. A virtual meeting option opens this opportunity to a larger group of experts.
- Leverage your Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA)/HIRA. As weather events increase in frequency, severity, and duration, these events are having a greater impact on hazardous materials facilities and transporters resulting in a greater risk of an incident.
- Update your Emergency Response Plan annually with the latest best practices. EPCRA requires LEPCs to update these plans annually. Ideally, the updates would follow after receiving Tier II reports in March. But take the opportunity to improve this plan with plume modeling, risk analysis, identification of specific at-risk populations and communities, and recommendations for improving preparedness. Map the data in GIS software such as MARPLOT for data visualization and analysis.
- Conduct training for vulnerable facilities within the hazard areas. Conducting the analysis with GIS can help identify and prioritize vulnerable facilities such as nursing homes, schools, hospitals, other hazmat facilities, and critical infrastructure. A workshop on shelter-in-place and evacuation planning will help identify and improve planning, procedures, and decision-making.
- Conduct a seminar or tabletop exercise on the Emergency Response Plan to improve familiarization and utilization of the plan. This will also enhance incident coordination and communication among responders and the private sector.
- Assess impacts to underserved populations and disadvantaged communities. The EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening tool can provide insight into the location of regulated facilities within communities that may be disproportionately impacted by a hazmat incident. This tool can provide information on those with limited broadband access and smart phone usage which could impact communication effectiveness, income and unemployment which could indicate a lack of resources for effective evacuation, and elderly populations which may need additional assistance. Demographic data from the Census Bureau coupled with hazmat facility location data can provide insights into addressing disparities in the impacts of hazmat incidents.