Responding to an environmental crisis can pose a serious challenge for any organization. Research has revealed that less than 50 percent of U.S. companies hit by a disaster recover. Of the total, only 20 percent have complete disaster response and recovery plans in place.
There is little doubt that risk managers need to be involved in the emergency planning and response process. Risk managers must perform the vital analyses and identify the necessary steps to help their organizations respond effectively. Even if the organization believes it has appropriate plans, it is important for every risk manager to review its emergency policies and procedures to ensure that they continue to meet current needs.
Natural disasters and acts of terrorism have heightened awareness of the importance of emergency planning, and effective response plans are especially important for coping with environmental disasters. Plants that either produce hazardous materials or generate toxic byproducts must be prepared for potential disasters ranging from spills that can be contained quickly to fires or leaks that can affect the surrounding community.
In fact, disaster plans are mandated in the United States. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) spells out a structure that emergency plans must follow. According to the regulations, the following elements must be included:
* identification of facilities and transportation routes that contain hazardous substances
* emergency response procedures to be used on the site and surrounding areas
* identification of personnel designated as the community and facility coordinators responsible for implementing the plan
* procedures for notifying authorities and potentially affected parties
* methods for determining when a release has occurred and the probable area (and population) that could be at risk
* descriptions of the emergency equipment and facilities available in the community
* plans for evacuating facilities and potentially affected areas
To ensure that all regulatory requirements are fulfilled, periodic environmental compliance audits should be conducted at key facilities. Through the use of third-party environmental engineering firms or in-house risk management expertise, these audits will either confirm compliance or indicate areas that need to be corrected. The risk manager can then work with facility management to develop action plans for resolving any compliance issues.
The EPCRA regulations, also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), are designed to aid emergency planning efforts at state and local levels. Title III provides a legal platform that helps residents and local governments obtain information about possible chemical hazards in their communities.
The act has three subtitles that deal with local emergency response planning; disclosure of information on hazardous chemicals on a site-specific basis; and general provisions regarding trade secret protection, enforcement, citizen lawsuits and the public availability of information. SARA's reporting requirements for hazardous chemicals can be considered "right to know" information: who has chemicals, what those chemicals are, where they are stored and what potential effect they can have on the public health.
Under the act's Subtitle A, a facility using hazardous substances must identify, itself to the environmental protection commission of the state in which it is located and provide government representatives with information about the facility's emergency response plan. In addition, the organization must designate a "facility emergency coordinator," who is required to report any relevant changes to the commission.
Section 304, titled Emergency Notification, addresses the need for communities to be warned about chemical emergencies. When a listed hazardous substance is released accidentally, a facility must immediately notify the appropriate state and local authorities.
Under Section 305, which describes required emergency training and systems, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies are authorized to instruct entities in emergency. preparedness. In addition, this section directs the EPA to review emergency systems related to hazardous substances.
SARA's reporting requirements are described in detail in Subtitle B. For instance, under Section 311, any facility required to have a material safety data sheet (MSDS) -- a summary of the health, safety and toxicological information pertaining to a specific chemical -- will also be subject to the reporting requirements in this section- Some companies may find it more practical to provide a list of the substances it uses instead of submitting an actual MSDS for each chemical.
Similarly, Section 312 (Emergency and Hazardous Chemical Inventory Reporting Requirements) mandates any facility, that submits MSDSs to also provide emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms. And Section 313 (Toxic Chemical Release Reporting Requirements) compels facilities to submit toxic chemical release forms and reports for certain chemicals manufactured, processed or otherwise used in quantities greater than the threshold amounts.
Information about relationships to other laws, trade secret protection, emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms, substantiation of trade secret claims, claims of confidentiality, public petitions of disclosure, noncompliance penalties and other requirements are covered in SARA's Subtitle C.
Disaster Planning and Management
Although these regulations mandate the need to establish recovery plans, organizations must also consider how to adapt their plans to meet their unique needs. For most, the first step will be to create a facility safety committee, which should include representatives from operating and senior management. An outline should be prepared to ensure that the disaster plan covers crisis planning, management and communications.
The committee should identify worst-case scenarios arising from various exposures, and response plans should then be developed for each potential occurrence. Checklists and flow charts are excellent tools to ensure that everyone will be clear about the procedures to follow during (and after) an emergency. Recovery plans should be written to include emergency recognition and prevention, escape procedures, reporting requirements and contact personnel. These plans should be widely available throughout the organization; common steps include distributing manuals to all employees, hanging posters that summarize key response steps and making recovery information available on a corporate intranet.
It is also important to ensure that the ideas developed by the safety committee are communicated clearly. Emergency response manuals are often written by experts who use terms that are beyond the understanding of employees in other disciplines. Instead, an emergency manual must be presented in a format that is easy to follow and should be reviewed by general employees to ensure comprehension.
In addition, many organizations make the mistake of purchasing a generic disaster management manual and assuming that such a purchase will fulfill their need for an emergency plan. Risk managers must bear in mind that a generic manual is intended to serve as a template that must be tailored to the specific needs of the organization.
Every scout is taught to "be prepared." This credo holds true for everyone involved in an organization's emergency planning effort. It takes more than just knowing that the local fire department is in the vicinity. The individuals responsible for coordinating the emergency response must know whether the local department can handle a fire at the organization's facility. An organization must also investigate whether the local emergency medical service and hospital have the ability to handle a large number of casualties and the particular injuries that can arise from the materials used at specific work sites.
Coordinating the efforts of different organization departments or divisions cannot be overlooked. A team approach in which everyone knows respective responsibilities will benefit the organization as a whole. A disaster is not the time to start asking questions like how many people could be exposed or to what degree people could be exposed.
Training is integral to the "be prepared" credo. An effective manual that spells out who does what is useless without training and repetitive emergency drills that put the response process into action.
For example, during a mock disaster drill conducted at a small hospital, the coordinator panicked and complained loudly that the hospital administration never instructed her about emergency procedures and had not taken the time to demonstrate her areas of responsibility. Although her complaints were probably disconcerting to patients, this lack of understanding would have been far more significant during a real disaster.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation. Organizations in virtually every industry can fall victim to a lack of emergency training.
When disaster response training is scheduled, two important goals must be kept in mind. First, the organization must ensure that the response manual is understood and that the outlined procedures are familiar to the staff. Second, more than one person must be trained to control an emergency situation. Although duplicating this training may appear expensive or redundant, its value will be appreciated if an individual who had been trained is absent during (or a victim of) a disaster.
Like the clarity and simplicity needed for the emergency manual, training sessions must strive to be understandable to all participants. Realizing that taking time from regular duties is often difficult, management needs to offer flexible alternatives. Organizations should consider creating modules of the training sessions or individual interactive computer training, especially for rotating shifts, crossover training and new employees.
Spreading the Word
In formulating a disaster plan, it is critical to address crisis communications. Managing communications with the media, public and employees should be as well-conceived and developed as the disaster recovery plan itself. Organizations must remember that environmental incidents are likely to raise concerns beyond a facility's fences and that the news media can serve as a channel for communicating with the community.
Should an environmental disaster take place, top management and the public relations department must be able to describe the organization's actions and provide a link between the response team and the media. Someone explaining the details of the organization's response helps to minimize erroneous conclusions and assumptions.
A company should be prepared to communicate what it knows as soon as possible. Speed is of the essence. It is important that only individuals identified as official spokespeople respond to media or community inquiries and provide answers that have been approved by the company. Other staff should be instructed to relay any inquires to the public relations department. A central place for the press to meet collectively should be designated and located near a command post. If appropriate, allow the press a full view of the scene, and hold briefings at regular intervals.
Although crisis response is a subject that most companies hope they will never have to deal with, a good plan is needed to function through a disaster and its aftermath. An effective response strategy will speed the recovery process, reduce business interruption, minimize public relations damage and possibly reduce potential liability threats. Risk managers can help their organizations reap these benefits by instituting and coordinating an effective crisis recovery program.
Gaylord Bridegan, risk management director at Guilford County in Greensboro, NC, was the 1996-97 chairman of the RIMS environmental committee. Dan Chilcutt is former director of risk management at SBC Communications in San Antonio, TX. B.H. Basehart is a researcher with Maynard, Ltd. in Pepperell, MA. Marvin Dickerson, president of PRISMS, Inc. in Greensboro, NC, is a former safety and risk management coordinator at Burlington Chemical Co. in Burlington, NC. This article was prepared on behalf of the RIMS environmental committee.…