In the aftermath of the destructive explosion and disaster at the West Fertilizer Co. plant in West, Texas, President Obama issued an executive order to ensure a safer environment in and near a chemical facility.
Executive Order (EO) 13650 – Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security directs the Federal Government to:
• Improve operational coordination with State, local, and tribal partners
• Enhance Federal agency coordination and information sharing
• Modernize policies, regulations, and standards
• Work with stakeholders to identify best practices
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It is a given that chemicals are an essential part of our economy and can improve the life, health, and well-being of people across the U.S. The catch is, though, the handling and storage of chemicals at facilities must be safe and any kind of security risks need mitigation.
To accomplish these goals, the EO established a Federal interagency working group (Working Group) led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and including other departments and agencies involved in the oversight of chemical facility safety and security.
Recognizing that stakeholders are essential to managing and mitigating the risks of potential chemical facility hazards, the Working Group initiated an outreach effort to assist the workgroup in identifying successes and best practices.
A thorough analysis of the current operating environment, existing regulatory programs, and stakeholder feedback resulted in a consolidated Federal Action Plan of future actions to further minimize risks, organized by five thematic areas:
• Strengthening community planning and preparedness
• Enhancing Federal operational coordination
• Improving data management
• Modernizing policies and regulations
• Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices
The report highlights activities to improve chemical facility safety and security and provides a plan.
Facilities storing and using hazardous chemicals are found in all types of communities. Communities need to know where hazardous chemicals see use and end up stored, how to assess the risks associated with those chemicals, and how to ensure community preparedness for incidents that may occur.
Communities must also take into consideration local geographic and socioeconomic issues and address the differing needs of sensitive populations.
Strengthening communities’ planning and preparedness requires a sound process.
There is broad consensus in the stakeholder community the most effective emergency planning occurs at the local level, with Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) providing a formal prevention and preparedness engagement structure. Stakeholder input noted many of the LEPCs and TEPCs do not have the capabilities to conduct emergency planning and require training and resources, which has made it difficult for industry and others to engage in planning with LEPCs and TEPCs. Stakeholders underscored the importance of joint planning and exercising. State and local officials also identified the need for access to timely, usable, understandable information from facilities and the Federal Government for emergency response planning, land use planning, and identification of potentially noncompliant facilities.
Community members expressed concern about a perceived lack of effective communication from industry partners regarding incidents and general facility safety performance. Additional concerns were shared regarding local plans to shelter in place, evacuate, or relocate during an incident as well as recovery support to include consideration of community members with chronic special medical needs or those facing socioeconomic challenges.
Communities adjacent to multiple facilities also raised concerns regarding the failure to address the specific vulnerabilities of lower-income communities, including environmental justice considerations.
The Working Group took a number of steps to address these concerns, including:
1. DHS and EPA engaged with LEPCs and first responders across the country to identify and discuss potential methods to increase first responder preparedness and to share lessons learned across departments.
2. EPA continued to upgrade its Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) suite to provide more useful and accurate information to emergency personnel and the public.
3. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) educated State Administrative Agencies on how the Homeland Security Grant Program allows risk-centric, capabilities-based planning and preparedness training for chemical incidents.
In addition, the Working Group identified five priority action areas to help strengthen community planning and preparedness, including:
1. Strengthening State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs), LEPCs, and TEPCs.
2. Improving first responder and emergency management preparedness and response training.
3. Identifying and coordinating resources for SERCs, TERCs, LEPCs, and TEPCs to sustain planning and response efforts.
4. Expanding tools to assist SERCs, TERCs, LEPCs, and TEPCs in collecting, storing, and using chemical facility information.
5. Enhancing awareness and increasing information sharing with communities around chemical facilities.
Click here for more information on the report presented to the president.