Environment & Health

Emergency Preparedness Plan in Local Communities: The Role of Stakeholders

What to Communicate

The industry should develop fact sheets or kits on all its industrial operations. These include: Size of facility (number of employees/square meters of the layout, etc.); Products for consumer end-users and exports; General description of operations (including risks and mitigation measures to minimize them); Technical hazards information (converted into layman’s terms); Environmental protection programmes; In-site emergency plan; Integrated community emergency response plan; Information on personnel safety training programmes; Specific contributions to the facility’s fence-line neighbour and general social responsibility; Photo/film clips of facility geared to local population’s understanding.

The departments, groups, or organizations which can take part in developing a fact sheet on the industry’s operations include: the company’s public/community affairs department, the local/international industry association, public relations and environmental safety consulting firms, community and religious leaders. They can help in developing a community relations plan; Providing communications support (speechwriting, news, releases, etc); Converting technical hazard information into integrated community response plan and general communications for external audiences and media/visitor file; Conducting management training for personnel in meeting the public and the media; And making preparations for staging open houses and tours.

In the event of an emergency situation, the information needs of the stakeholders will be greatly influenced by the media who want answers to the questions “what? why? and whose fault?”. The early action of the crisis management team of the company in collating the facts of the situations and setting up a control centre through all information are routed and disseminated to the public, would help in managing the crisis. In the absence of this arrangement, rumuor, speculation would be used to fill the vacuum.

The company must provide factually correct and meaningful information in respect of the crisis. It should provide information on: How the issue arose? Why it arose? And what is being done? The company should be emphatic on what is actually being done to: Save life; prevent escalation of the accident; relieve suffering; safeguard and protect the environment; protect property; promote self help and recovery; and restore normality as soon as possible.

How to communicate

The industry should explore communications opportunities and methods appropriate for local circumstances during normal operation and crisis periods. These should include, but not limited to: facts sheets or brochures; slide/speech presentations ; press briefing and media chat; small group meetings of elected officials, regulators, community leaders, etc; direct mails (correspondence with regulators, community groups etc); publication in business/ industry association’s journal; community newsletters and oral communications; news releases; plant tours, community open houses; advertising; instructional programme through places of worship or via school children back to their families, etc.

Achieving Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness deals with creating and / or improving community awareness of hazardous installations; and ensuring that the community’s citizens participate in the response plan to prevent or lessen the associated accidents that endanger life, properties or the environment in the event of emergencies at these installations. The community participation is crucial because the extent of loss caused by such accidents depends to a large extent on the actions of the industry’s personnel and the local community who constitute the first responders. The industry, government authorities or the community can be a catalyst for initiating emergency preparedness process.

Emergency preparedness process involves two basic approaches. The process requires the industry:

1 To create and / or increase knowledge in the community about the possible risks and hazards associated with manufacturing, handling and use of hazardous materials in the area. This is called “Community Awareness.”

2 To develop, on the basic of this information, and in co –operation with the local community, appropriate regulatory government agencies and agencies with responsibities for emergencies, response plans involving the entire community, should an emergency endangering its environmental health safety arise. This will be called “Emergency Response.”

The National Guidelines and Standards for Environmental Pollution Control in Nigeria, in sections 2.7 and 2.8, emphasizes the need for Contingency and Emergency Preparedness Plan at Local Level. It states, inter alia, that “A contingency plan shall be developed to lessen the potential impact on public health and the environment in the event of an emergency, including a fire, explosion, or unplanned sudden or non – sudden release of dangerous waste, hazardous substances or dangerous waste constituents to air, soil, surface water, or ground water by a facility.”

The Regulation considers the following requirements, among others, as vital for developing emergency preparedness plan.

i) An on – site plan should take consideration of all facilities (fire protection equipment, spill control equipment, decontamination equipment, alarms, emergency communication device, etc) require to minimize hazards, provide immediate emergency instructions to facility personnel and summon emergency assistance from agencies with responsibilities for emergencies.

ii) An off – site plan should be drawn up to integrate the right of the community to know and participate at all times in response planning for hazardous installations.

iii) The community likely to be affected by a hazardous facility / operation should be aware of the potential dangers of sudden or non – sudden discharges and activities to mitigate the emergencies.

iv) To familiarize local hospitals with the type of injuries or illnesses associated with the facility/ operation

v) To familiarize appropriate government agencies responsible for emergency response with the plan. Where the appropriate government authorities decline to enter into such arrangements, the owner / operator of the facility shall document the refusal and the onus of proof of that refusal shall rest with the owner / operator.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) working party on sustainable development chaired by Peter Bright of Shell international also prepared the Business Charter incorporating the principles of “community awareness “and “emergency response.” The Charter for sustainable development, which contains sixteen principles for environmental management, was formally launched at the second World Industry Conference on Environmental Management (WICEM II) in April 1991.

The Charter provides sixteen principles for environmental management. The principle No.12 addresses the need for emergency preparedness at local level. It states thus:. To develop and maintain, where significant hazards exist, emergency preparedness plans in conjunction with the emergency services, relevant authorities and the local community, recognizing potential transboundary impacts.

Following various industrial accidents that occurred in both highly industrialised and industrialising countries, resulting in adverse impacts on life, public health and the environment, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggested a series of measures to help governments, particularly in developing countries, minimize accidents associated with industrial and technological accidents.

In this context, the title and acronym, Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL) was first used by United Nations Environment Programme / Industry and Environment (UNEP/IE) for Action Plan for Emergency Preparedness for industrial and technological accidents. APELL provides co-ordinating group approach to development of response plans for emergencies and accidents at local level.

The three emergency response participants groups are the industry, the local community and the government authorities. The groups jointly develop the action plan for APELL. The APELL provides the basic concepts for the development of action plan for emergency preparedness as follows:

i) The industry shall avoid fenced – in industrial facility that looks mysterious and threatening to the community. The industry shall foster openness and dialogue with the local community and its employees on the potential hazards of its facility and operation.

ii) The citizens of the community in the risk zone shall use their “right- to- know” to enable them take their roles in the emergency preparedness plan. They shall be trained by the industry on how to act in the event of emergencies.

iii) The appropriate government authorities shall approve, regulate, support and take active part in the response plan.

In 1992, the Earth Summit held under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, endorsed APELL in Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a global framework for action, which outlines key policies for acheiving environmentally sound and sustainable development in all sectors of the society.

The ten – step approach to the APELL process for emergency preparedness planning is as follow:

1) Identity the emergency response participants (government emergency response agencies, industry and community) and establish their roles, resources and concerns.

2) Identify, evaluate and rank risks and hazards which may result in emergency situations in the community.

3) Each participating group should review its own emergency plan for adequacy relative to a coordinated response. The participants should ensure the adequacy of basic core elements such as an organised fire service personnel, medical response teams, environmental pollution control teams, etc.

4) Using the results in step 3, identity and list the required tasks for a successful integrated plan which are yet to be covered by the participating groups. The additional tasks/equipment necessary to complete the response plan may include: Overall command authority; communication equipment which can reach all participants; hazards monitoring equipment and associated training; and alerting the public on evacuation.

5) Assign the tasks in step 4 to the appropriate participating groups based on authority, jurisdiction, expertise or resources.

6) Make all necessary amendment in the light of steps 4 and 5, and integrate them into an overall community response plan. It is necessary to conduct a tabletop role playing exercise to test the plan, with a view to identifying the plan weakness and repeating steps 4 and 5, if necessary, to resolve these problems. Then gain agreement.

7) Commit the integrated community plan to writing and obtain approvals from appropriate government and emergency response agencies.

8) Educate and train participating groups and emergency responders about the integrated response plan.

9) Establish procedures for periodic testing, reviewing and updating of the plan. Preplanning the drill, preparing a drill scenario, and its evaluation process are crucial to a successful test. Full –scale emergency response drills serve as a means of identifying any deficiencies in the plan and assure that it is kept current and effective in a real emergency situation.

10) Educate the citizens in the risk zone about the integrated response plan. This include educating the citizens on how to act during emergency situations such as remain indoors, close windows, respond to sirens in a specific fashion, etc.

Conclusion

The overall goals of integrated community response plan are to prevent loss of life or damage to public health and social well-being, avoid damage to property and the environment. It integrates the facility (in-plant) response plan with local community response plan to make one overall plan. However, current practices by industrial concerns in Nigeria lack the essential aspect of close and direct interaction between the industry, the government agencies, and the community’s citizens.

The appropriate government bodies (i.e. Federal Ministry of Environment (FMENV) and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)) have an important role to provide the co-operative climate and support under which local community’s citizens can achieve adequate preparedness for emergencies, as statutorily required.. This entails involving members of the local community in the risk zone of hazardous installations in the development, testing and implementation of the overall response plan for the accidents and emergencies associated with such potentially hazardous installations.

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