September is National Preparedness Month

Today the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched its National Preparedness Month campaign. This nationwide, community-based initiative is designed to increase emergency preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions and exercises. It also urges everyone within the United States to practice preparedness actions before a disaster or emergency strikes.

In recognition of National Preparedness Month, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Emergency Response is going to post a weekly blog with important information to help Florida families prepare for emergencies by safeguarding their homes and businesses and to allow them to personally respond to incidents that impact them. For the first post of the month, we will introduce the Department’s Office of Emergency Response, its role in protecting Florida’s environment and tips on how and when to report an incident.

The Office of Emergency Response is unique within the Department: most people may not realize that the Department has first responders who tackle hazardous environmental emergencies and potential pollution threats of every type on a daily basis. This Office is also special because it regularly collaborates with other state and federal agencies, including the Florida Department of Health and the United States Coast Guard, to ensure that environmental and public health is restored after incidents occur.

Office staff respond to a variety of incidents, such as petroleum spills caused by vehicle accidents, chemical plant explosions, chemical releases and oil spills. The Office also provides technical and on-site assistance to ensure public safety threats are quickly and effectively addressed. While responders are dispatched to variety of incidents, the role of the responder depends on the situation. For example, if a tanker overturns and releases diesel, the Department’s emergency responder will be on-scene to oversee the responsible party’s cleanup efforts, to ensure a proper environmental cleanup contractor is hired and to provide any additional assistance. Often times, the role of the responder is to supervise and make sure that the cleanup is carried out in the proper fashion to restore the environment to its pre-incident condition. If no responsible party is readily identifiable, the responder may conduct the clean-up on their own or bring in appropriate third-party resources.

There are six emergency response offices strategically placed throughout the state with an emergency responder on call in each office, 24 hours a day. You can report an environmental emergency or potential pollution threat by calling the State Watch Office at 1.800.320.0519 or 911.

 Here are some guidelines to follow when deciding if you should report a spill or incident:

Hazmat

    Petroleum Based Spills

    – Spills into or involving state waterways (any amount)

    – Spills greater than 25 gallons (or potential > 25 gallons)

    – Spills requiring any state/federal notifications or assistance

    Chemical Spills

    – All SARA/EHS/CERCLA Releases (Type out acronyms)

    – All spills threatening population or the environment

    – All spills requiring evacuation

Weather

Any incident associated with weather phenomena involving possible or actual damage to property or persons (i.e. wind damage, tornadoes, lightning strikes, flooding).

Transportation

    Incidents involving major thoroughfare closures

    All aircraft incidents

    All railroad incidents

    Incidents involving mass casualties

    All major incidents involving commercial vehicles/vessels

Fire

    Major forest fires

    Fires involving chemicals or significant amounts of petroleum products

    Large or multiple structure fires

Radiological

    All incidents involving suspected/actual radioactive materials

    All incidents concerning nuclear power plants

General

    Sinkholes

    Public water source contamination

    National security

    Medical waste

    Immigration issues

    Potential/actual dam failures

    Incidents with potential effects to adjacent countries/states

    Incidents requiring assistance from state/federal agencies

    Incidents with a prolonged effect on public utilities

    Incidents involving potential or actual evacuations

When in doubt … call the State Watch Office at 1-800-320-0519.

Check back next week when we will discuss how to prepare your homes and businesses for hurricanes.

Check out the FEMA website for more information on National Preparedness Month.

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