Op-Ed: EPA readies for hurricane season, building on lessons from last year
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has joined partners across federal, tribal, state, and local governments in preparation for the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season.
On June 5, EPA senior leaders gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, to discuss the Agency’s preparations for the 2018 hurricane season.
“EPA stands ready with our partners on every level to respond to the 2018 hurricane season,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Given the expert preparedness and rapid response efforts of our teams during last year’s hurricanes, we are confident that we will respond swiftly to provide the necessary support and minimize impacts to public health and the environment.”
Earlier this month, Hurricane Beryl became the first major named storm in the Atlantic of the 2018 hurricane season. EPA REOC personnel closely monitored Hurricane Beryl in anticipation of potential landfall in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked closely with the government of Puerto Rico, the USVI, and municipalities over the past few months to address lessons learned from María and ensure the islands are better prepared for hurricane season at all levels.
Currently, EPA has approximately 60 personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico and USVI and in the Regional Emergency Operations Center in Edison, NJ dedicated to response, recovery, and readiness.
Generators used to supply power to some public water supply systems in Puerto Rico are being maintained and re-fueled by EPA and remain on the island in case they are needed for future responses.
As last year’s dynamic responses to Hurricanes Harvey, María, and Irma showed, EPA is prepared to respond to critical environmental and public health threats. The Agency’s emergency response program mitigates the environmental and health effects of man-made and natural disasters. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 until Nov. 30.
What we do
EPA supports hurricane preparedness and response in many ways, including:
- Mobilizing Emergency Responders: EPA has approximately 230 emergency responders ready to deploy anywhere in the country to respond to emergencies. More than 1,500
- EPA employees and contractors were deployed to impacted regions and EPA’s Emergency Operations Centers to provide technical and response support during the 2017 hurricane response.
- Addressing Fuel Shortages: The Clean Air Act allows EPA, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary, to waive certain fuel requirements to address shortages that occur because of the storm. Temporary waivers can help ensure an adequate supply of gasoline is available in the affected area, particularly for emergency vehicles. During Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and María, EPA issued 14 separate fuel waivers.
- Activating Mobile Assets: EPA has several assets to help gather data to assist emergency personnel with response activities. These include:
- – the nation’s only airborne real-time chemical and radiological detection, infrared, and photographic imagery platform. EPA used the ASPECT aircraft to provide real-time chemical information to first responders after the Arkema Chemical Plant explosion during Hurricane Harvey
- – a mobile laboratory for on-site analysis of air, soil, and water samples
- – a mobile laboratory capable of real-time ambient air monitoring, sampling, and analysis of outdoor air emissions
- Securing Superfund Sites: EPA assesses conditions at Superfund sites in the storm’s pathway and tasks site managers with assessing conditions and preparing for high winds and heavy rainfall. Following the storm and receding floodwaters, EPA conducts assessments to identify damage and initiate cleanup plans, if necessary. Any on-site activities at sites located in the storm’s path are ceased until the all clear is given and on-site equipment is secured. During Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, EPA completed approximately 250 assessments of Superfund sites.
- Assessing Conditions at Major Industrial Facilities: EPA assesses conditions at major industrial facilities in the storm’s pathway to identify potential impacts and countermeasures. The Agency conducts follow up inspections and damage assessments in response to reports within EPA jurisdiction. During the response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, this included approximately:
- 1,130 Risk Management Plan field assessments
- 345 Facility Response Plan field assessments
- 7,100 disaster debris management sites
- 320 spills/discharges
- 4,025 vessels assessed (vessels include tanks or containers at onshore oil and natural gas production facilities)
- Monitoring Public Water Systems: Water systems can be severely impacted during hurricanes due to storm surge, flooding, or loss of power from extreme winds. EPA uses its tracking system to identify systems in the storm’s pathway. Following the storm, and if the state requests federal assistance, EPA conducts damage assessments of both drinking water and wastewater systems to identify impacts to critical assets and assist in
- the recovery. In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, EPA and partners assessed approximately:
- 6,200 drinking water systems
- 1,220 wastewater systems
- Managing Debris and Impacted Infrastructure: Additionally, EPA assesses contaminated debris, storm-impacted infrastructure, and threats to human health and the environment. The Agency is prepared to assess and clean up public and private properties, render properties safe from hazardous materials, and facilitate removing solid waste, ash, and debris.
Overall, EPA works with partners across federal, tribal, state, and local governments to respond to oil spills; chemical, biological, radiological releases; and large-scale national emergencies.