Understanding disaster relief plans from EPA and WRHSAC

According to the official website of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when it comes to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, it is important for the local governments to step up to manage debris sites and demolish partially-destroyed houses.

Especially for areas that are more likely than others to be affected by natural disasters, EPA recommends that municipalities have a disaster plan in place, specifically a disaster debris management plan.

Reviewing this plan to see if the plan prevents the environmental issues that arise from removing and destroying debris from partially destroyed buildings is strongly advised.

If your community does not have a disaster debris management plan, the EPA’s website provides detailed directions and documentation to build a plan, as well as how to handle any and all environmental concerns that will inevitably arise, during the cleanup process.

Proper management of debris, which means the process of safe, proper, and timely removal, is a crucial, but often ignored, factor in disaster management.  In order to protect human health, conserve disposal capacity, comply with regulations, reduce injuries, and minimize and prevent environmental impacts, it is vitally important to properly and responsibly control disaster debris.  This process inevitably will consist of advance thought, coordination and planning of people at different levels of government with experience and expertise in waste management and disposal.

The Western Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC) has also developed a Disaster Plan Management Plan Template, with the goal of filling in discovered gaps in the emergency preparedness planning activities of many areas in the four western Massachusetts counties, including Franklin, Berkshire, Hampshire, and Hampden. Although this area may be different than those affected by Hurricane Harvey, the principles remain the same. This organization’s goals of making disaster cleanup less expensive, safer, more environmentally conscious, and quicker is very similar to the EPA’s description of the same process.

The core benefits of having a Disaster Debris Management Plan already in place, prior to a natural disaster include:

  • Improving the response and recovery time
  • Reducing the cost of debris management
  • Qualifying for federal reimbursements

The Plan’s template, which is available on numerous government websites, is divided into two parts. The first part, in which debris management planning is discussed in a step-by-step checklist process, lists and discusses the specific organizations that will need to be involved and contacted in the handling of debris, as well as the responsibilities of these organizations, which include:

  • Identifying the various hazardous situations and management assumptions that define this particular debris management process
  • Review the local government’s plan and response activities that correspond with each cleanup cycle
  • Define a concept for debris clearance and removal

The second part is the Appendix, which provides critical reference material including:

  • Acronyms and their meanings
  • Links to online resources concerning disaster debris management
  • FEMA guides and forms
  • Mutual aid agreements and maps
  • Debris management data samples
  • State contract user guides
  • Key forms and disaster guides

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