Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Emergency Response and Disaster Planning

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Emergency Response and Disaster Planning

Article excerpt

A risk assessment approach to planning for the unexpected--before it actually happens!

Emergency planning is essential for all organizations. This applies whether you are a major manufacturer using large quantities of potentially hazardous materials or an organization that only employs office workers. This is because even those organizations that have no potentially hazardous materials, processes or wastes need a plan for fire, severe weather and other events requiring evacuation.

What is important is to have an idea of what the potential emergencies and disasters might be. Planning flows from this point. In this article, I will review a risk assessment approach to emergency and disaster planning with that concept in mind.

What can make emergency and disaster planning complicated is that they are regulated under a variety of different rules by a number of federal and state government agencies. The majority of the regulations on emergency planning reside within the jurisdiction of EPA and OSHA.

EPA has jurisdiction over the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (contingency plans), the Clean Air Act (risk management plans), the Clean Water Act (spill prevention control and countermeasures plan), the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (emergency planning and community right-to-know plans) and others.

OSHA has jurisdiction over hazardous waste operations and emergency response, process safety management, and requirements under the hazard communication rules. In addition, OSHA has separate requirements for emergency action planning and fire prevention planning for essentially all organizations within its range of authority.

My assumption is that your organization has done some emergency planning, because most of these rules have been around since the 1980s. Nevertheless, now might be a good time to review your plans to see if they will really work. For those of you who routinely have your plans audited or audit others, you may wish to re-evaluate your audit criteria using a holistic approach (e.g., an integrated plan). In this regard, I will review a general philosophy and approach to emergency planning followed by a brief discussion of some particulars that can lead to implementation of an effective plan. Paraphrasing Murphy's Law, "If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something!"

The 50,000-Foot View

The best place to start is the beginning (a purposeful redundancy). By that, I mean having a logical scheme for developing emergency and disaster plans.

This starts with establishing a complete inventory of potentially hazardous materials received or stored in quantities that might present a significant risk (e.g., bulk storage of solvents, gases and fuels). Identify processes that could present inherent hazards. Recognize potentially adverse events (e.g., bad weather, natural disasters, power failures, chemical spills and fire) that could occur and involve the materials or processes listed in the inventory.

Conduct a risk assessment for the identified adverse events based on the expected frequency and potential impact (severity or consequence) of the event to include information generated by any history of near misses or adverse events. Establish an integrated plan to mitigate the effects of those events established as presenting high risk (severity and frequency). Identify the resources necessary to carry out those plans.

Provide personnel with the training necessary to recognize these potential hazards and to understand their role in the emergency response/disaster planning programs. Establish a means to develop and enhance skills and knowledge in emergency response and disaster planning to be able to effectively and efficiently carry out the integrated plan that is developed.

I Don't Plan to Have Any Emergencies

No one plans a real emergency or disaster. Fortunately, they are rare events, but not unforeseeable. …

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