How should environmental compliance professionals observe National Preparedness Month?

September 19, 2014

Natural disasters create environmental risks at a wide range of commercial and industrial sites, particularly in the energy industry and other businesses that involve the storage or transportation of large volumes of petroleum. It is critical for stakeholders to understand how soil or groundwater contamination may arise at their facilities as the result of a disaster and take steps to mitigate potential risks.

Of course, emergencies strain even the most carefully laid plans, but taking proactive steps to prepare can help limit the impact of a disaster and facilitate an effective response, reducing the length of the recovery process. National Preparedness Month offers an opportunity to think about how different types of disasters could impact your business, and what you can do to increase your level of preparedness.

FEMA calls for 'PrepareAthon'

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging Americans to to participate in a "PrepareAthon" on September 30. FEMA is encouraging communities to prepare for any disasters that may occur in their area, but the agency's PrepareAthon campaign is focusing on six specific hazards: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms.

Any of these disasters could create environmental liabilities by causing the release of hazardous materials. Facilities that handle potential contaminants must take a proactive approach to preventing releases during an emergency.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates most facilities with on-site oil storage capacity under the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule, which is part of a broader Oil Pollution Prevention regulation that also includes a Facility Response Plan rule. This blog has previously discussed specific aspects of the SPCC rule, including record keeping requirements and the treatment of mobile refuelers.

Contingency plans must account for broader health and safety concerns

Companies often designate specific personnel to address day-to-day regulatory compliance issues. In contingency planning, environmental concerns cannot be addressed in a vacuum. Facilities must maintain a broader emergency plan covering health and safety issues that may arise during different types of disasters. Some of the most basic questions that need to be answered are the same at every site:

  • Do you know how to receive notifications from local authorities about imminent disasters?
  • Does your facility have the basic supplies that will be needed during a common contingency, such as a power outage?
  • Is there a plan for communicating with employees and delineating individual responsibilities during an emergency?

Without this base-level preparation, environmental contingencies will be that much harder to manage during and after a disaster. If you need to establish or update environmental safeguards in your facility's emergency plan, the environmental consultants and engineers at PPM can help you identify and address site-specific risks.