This post looks at actions taken to Strengthen Community Planning and Preparedness under Executive Order (EO) 13650 - “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” - which was issued by President Obama on the heels of the disaster in West, TX. The West, TX incident killed 11 First Responders, injured 226 people, and damaged or destroyed 150 buildings, which included an apartment complex and middle school. Chemical Safety Board findings show that poor communication, unclear regulatory standards, and lax oversight lent itself to the disaster taking place. A 2015 Fact Sheet shared the progress made to date since the Working Group formed.
The first of 5 areas of improvement identified in the EO is Strengthening Community Planning and Preparedness. It seeks to re-invigorate the State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), which are voluntary groups of emergency planning authorities and industry participants who work together to plan against hazardous chemical disasters. SERCs and LEPCs were put in place at each state after the Bhopal Incident of 1984, coined the "Worst Industrial Accident in history", in which 15,000 people were killed and over 500,000 people were effected by the leak of an extremely hazardous chemical. Since these groups are voluntary, they see a varied level of activity across the country. The SERC is appointed by the Governor. LEPCs are voluntary organizations headed by the Emergency Management Agency in each County. Most LEPCs are funded with grants from the state, and run on a shoe-string budget. The Executive Order identifies several funding sources for SERCs and LEPCs seeking to support their work in Emergency Plan development and risk assessment.
Actions taken in the area of training:
- The EPA issued a factsheet, “How to Better Prepare Your Community for a Chemical Emergency: A Guide for State, Tribal, and Local Agencies.”
- The EPA released an on-line training module on key requirements for SERCs/ TERCs and LEPCs/TEPCs under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
- DHS has created a list of courses for first responders and emergency planners regarding explosives.
Actions taken in the area of chemical facility security:
- DHS/FEMA is working with the 10 counties with the highest combination of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) and Risk Management Program (RMP) facilities to ensure they are using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which provides public notification of incidents at local chemical facilities.
Actions taken in the area of explosives training and storage identification:
- ATF is facilitating a conversation with SERC, LEPC, and storage facilities to develop training for emergencies.
These activities help to improve competence and infuse momentum into LEPCs which are vital local authorities closest to the chemical risks and responsible for responding when an emergency occurs. Strong, active LEPCs and SERCs are essential to identifying local safety risks. They need clear guidelines, funding, and tools to accomplish their goals. The EO activities are solid first steps toward providing a common baseline of training and information sharing between Federal, State, and Local bodies.