Many occupational health and safety professionals may be familiar with the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) that establishes local emergency planning committees (LEPC) for the safety of a community as it relates to chemicals.1 Some communities may not extend this information to its first responders.
The key foundation of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is for elected officials, public safety professionals, environmental, transportation and hospital officials, facility representatives, community groups and the media to form a local emergency planning committee. Local emergency planning committees are further charged with developing emergency response plans that provide information to its community regarding the chemicals they may be exposed to.
On Jan. 20, 2020, the United States confirmed its first case of 2019-nCoV, more commonly referred to as COVID-19 This event that changed the world we know as safety professionals. A quick Google search shows many articles about the recent surge in exposures and organizations who have adjusted their business models to allow for telework. Nationally, some governments have shuttered their facilities to the public while many industries and critical infrastructure continue their daily operations. In some cases, the displacement of our workforce has increased the volume of volunteer public safety professionals, potentially creating an under-prepared emergency response force.
As volunteers increase, (or volunteers’ availability increases) there may be a lack of familiarity within the responder community as to how to gain facilities access, casualty collection points, egress routes or other critical building information. With dynamic changes occurring rapidly to protect critical workforces, the bridge between on-site and off-site emergency response operations may have also drastically changed. Now more than ever it is critical for our industries of OHS and public safety to build bridges.
The first step is to reach out to the leadership teams within these public safety sectors—emergency medical services, emergency management services, fire and law enforcement, etc. Set up a time for everyone to get together, via Zoom, with members of your organization to discuss the capabilities of your organization’s facility as well as those of a local responders’ locale. This starts the relationship-building process before an event occurs. This also lets first responders tap into your organization’s disaster response resources.
During this initial outreach phase, it is beneficial to offer and conduct site or facility tours. During these tours, first responders can identify key areas that could impact their community such as access and egress routes for apparatus, fire suppression systems, casualty collection points or rally points and restricted access areas. If a facility has a restricted access area, it is critical to work with local responders to develop plans and contacts to ensure reasonable access is provided for the protection of life, property and the environment.