Local Emergency Planning Committees
A Brief History
After two major chemical releases impacted more than half a million people, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Superfund Amendments Reauthorization, known as SARA, on Oct. 17, 1986.
Title III of SARA is the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. It mandates and places full responsibility on the state, tribal, and local agencies to prepare for, respond to, and protect the community from chemical accidents.
To implement this, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted the Hazardous Material Emergency Planning and Response Act, or Act 165. Among other things, Act 165 designates each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties as a local emergency planning district; this requires them to have a local emergency planning committee.
A facility is designated a "planning facility" if its on-hand quantities of chemicals designated as extremely hazardous substances exceed the threshold planning quantity on the
Environmental Protection Agency's List of Lists.
More than 3,600 planning facilities have been identified in Pennsylvania, and more than 97 percent of required plans have been reviewed by PEMA and have been found to provide adequately for the health and safety of the public.
In addition to chemical facility planning, Act 165 allows for the county to leverage the experience and expertise of its emergency planning committee members to perform all-hazard planning for things like tornadoes, flooding, and hurricanes. This all-hazard approach ensures that each planning district can create plans to protect their communities.
Local emergency planning committee members are appointed by the director of PEMA from a list of nominees that is submitted by the governing body of the county.
At a minimum, each committee must include one person from each of these categories:
State/Local Officials||Commissioner, sheriff, county clerk, attorney, mayor, state representative, state emergency management, or environmental agency official|
Law Enforcement||Police officers, police chief, sheriff, deputies|
|First Responders||Fire chief, firefighters|
|Emergency Management||Emergency preparedness coordinator, emergency coordinators for businesses|
|Health||County health department, doctors, mental health hospital, hospital administrator/director, poison control center|
Broadcast/Communications Media ||Newspaper, website developers, public information, RACES, ham radio clubs, local weather reporters|
|Print Media||Daily or weekly newspaper editors, reporters, trade journal editors/reporters|
Emergency Medical Services||Director of county ambulance, EMS technicians|
|Transportation||Highway department, school bus director, airport authority, tracking company, transit|
|Local Environmental Groups||County extension office, environmental groups [such as Sierra Club, conservation groups, Audubon Society], school environmental program director|
Community Groups||Red Cross, Salvation Army, special needs groups, animal shelters, ministerial alliance, chamber of commerce, garden club, Rotary club, Kiwanis, Lions Club, groups focused on environmental justice issues|
|Facility Owners/Operators||Any representative from a facility using or storing hazardous materials in the county|
Roles and Responsibilities
Activities of a local planning committee are coordinated by the State Emergency Response Commission. In Pennsylvania, the day-to-day activities of the commission are handled by PEMA as its primary agent.
Planning committees and the State Emergency Response Commission have four primary responsibilities:
- Prepare emergency plans to protect the public from chemical accidents.
- Establish warning and evacuation procedures for the public.
- Collect information used in the preparation of annual reports about the release of toxic chemicals.
- Provide local governments and the public with information about hazardous chemicals and accidental releases in their
Planning for Success
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act establishes emergency planning committees as a local forum to talk about HAZMAT, chemical safety, and emergency planning. Planning committees also provide local governments and the public with information about chemical hazards in their communities.
The success and effectiveness of a planning committee depends on the commitment of its members. The unique skills that each member brings is crucial to the planning process.
Membership of a planning committee is not restricted to people in the chemical industry or in emergency services. Community advocates are needed to ensure that the committee is aware of special circumstances and the needs of specific communities.