Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Natural Disasters Remind Us To Review Emergency Plans

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 26, 2017

Hurricane Irma.jpgAlthough environmental health and safety (EH&S) regulations focus primarily on safe handling of materials and wastes during routine operations, reports following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the major earthquake in Mexico, should remind us to plan to prevent releases from non-routine situations, up to an including natural disasters. Press reports include the following:

  • Arkema SA’s plant in Crosby, Texas was hit by explosions after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey knocked out power supplies needed to refrigerate volatile chemicals. EH&S and emergency response agencies are investigating how the company’s actions may have contributed to the incident. Reports note that the facility was recently cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for violations of the Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard related to handling of these materials (after multiple citations of the same standard in 2012). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies are also investigating.

  • Reuters reported on September 15 that its review of Coast Guard records shows that “more than 22,000 barrels of oil, refined fuels and chemicals spilled at sites across Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, along with millions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of tons of other toxic substances.” These reports were made to the National Response Center in compliance with Clean Water Act and Superfund reporting requirements, but causes have not been publicly identified.

Although regulators don’t necessarily expect facilities to prepare for 500 year floods or 8+ earthquakes, these disasters are a reminder that most facilities should have emergency response plans, based on identified emergency scenarios. Now is a good time to review them.

What Planning is Required at Most Facilities?

Facilities that handle more than minimal amounts of chemicals are typically subject to a number of emergency planning and response plans, including:

  • Hazardous Materials Management Plan (HMMP) (fire codes) (I wrote about these here). Facilities prepare a hazardous materials inventory statement (HMIS), and onsite emergency response plans based on self-selected release scenarios – facilities typically choose chemical and non-chemical fires, and the natural disasters their sites are prone to (earthquakes here in California, hurricanes in the southeast, blizzards in the north). 

  • Hazardous Waste Contingency Plans (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and state laws) (I included these in a broader discussion here). Large quantity hazardous waste generators prepare contingency plans, designed to minimize hazards from fires, explosions, or unplanned releases of hazardous waste.

  • Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) (Clean Water Act and state law) (I discussed these here). Facilities where precipitation may wash pollutants into storm drains or streams must identify possible sources and devise preventive measures.

  • Emergency Action Plan (EAP) (OSHA and state laws) (I wrote about these here). A number of OSHA standards require employers to develop EAPs; these include PSM, the Hazardous Waste and Emergency Operations Standard (HAZWOPER), and several chemical-specific standards. EAPs must include emergency scenarios, and procedures for reporting and response (including evacuations).

In addition, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires employers to train their “hazmat employees” in a variety of general awareness topics, job-specific topics (unspecified to provide employers flexibility to design appropriate training), and security training.

What Additional Planning May Be Required?

Facilities handling large quantities of particularly hazardous chemicals (particularly flammables and toxics) have additional and much more detailed requirements. Notably:
  • Process Safety Management Standard (OSHA and states) (I wrote about this here). Subject facilities must prepare exhaustive operational evaluations, and make site enhancement necessary to minimize the risk of identified hazards. Based on past enforcement, it’s not clear that the Arkema facility identified above had fully complied with these requirements for planned-for events (let alone a 500 year flood).

  • Clean Air Act Accidental Release Prevention (ARP) requirements (EPA and states) (I wrote about requirements, and controversial proposed revisions, here). The ARP rules require facilities to prepare Risk Management Plans (RMPs), based on quantities of specified toxic and flammable materials, and on the site’s proximity to other human and environmental “receptors” that might be harmed by a release.

  • Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) (Department of Homeland Security (DHS)). Publicly available requirements direct facilities with high-hazard chemicals to provide screening information to DHS, which replies with further queries and requirements. To safeguard security, DHS does not provide any detailed information, so I can’t say much about this program.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Do each of the organization’s facilities prepare an inventory of chemicals handled onsite?

Do any of the organization’s facilities handle chemicals regulated as hazardous by any EH&S regulatory compliance programs?

Has each facility identified emergency/contingency/incident planning requirements under each applicable regulatory program?

Has each facility prepared required emergency/contingency/incident plans and associated training and procedures under each applicable regulatory program?

Are any such plans coordinated or merged to ensure they are comprehensive, and comprehensible to facility personnel and emergency responders?

Has each facility “exercised” each plan, through training exercise(s) and/or actual incidents?

Does each facility take steps to ensure that each plan is complete and up to date?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 13 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

NASA Sees Irma Strengthen to a Category 5 Hurricane via photopin (license)

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental