In the State of North Carolina — my apologies to our colleagues in South Carolina, as our discussion regarding the statutory genesis of emergency management and some additional specific details will center on the Old North State — General Statute 166A provides the statutory authority for the establishment of emergency management functions. As GS 166A states, each county is responsible for emergency management functions within the confines of the county. This, however, does not preclude any municipality from establishing its own emergency management agency.
To recede further into history, the roots of emergency management lie in the civil defense concept that arose during the First World War and existed into the Cold War era. While the general concept and functions of emergency management are consistent throughout counties and even across the nation, the actual composition and structure of local emergency management agencies differs widely. In some of the more populous counties, emergency management functions fall under the purview of a stand-alone emergency management agency. In other counties, the emergency management agency and the responsibilities therein lie within the fire marshal’s office. Some emergency management agencies also exist in the form of joint county/municipal agencies or the responsibilities may even be tasked to other county departments or even municipal or county managers.
What does emergency management bring to the table at a hazmat incident?
To begin with, emergency management personnel can be invaluable in ensuring that a unified command is established at a multiple agency incident. As human nature has it, oftentimes we regress to the past days of each discipline — fire, EMS, law enforcement, etc. — establishing their own “Command Post” and operating in a vacuum at major incidents. Although this phenomenon has lessened in recent years with mandated Incident Command System training, the presence of an objective “third party” that can bring representatives from all agencies — or at least a minimum of all disciplines — present at the incident together in a true unified command is a huge asset. Emergency management personnel are normally experienced in coordinating efforts among diverse agencies, and as such are a natural for the aforementioned function.
In addition, emergency management personnel can often provide pertinent information regarding hazardous materials facilities, the hazardous materials present at such sites, and contact information for facility representatives. In a regulatory sense, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) are tasked with collecting and disseminating required chemical reporting data. In actuality, emergency management agencies usually serve as the liaison for LEPC and can often provide Tier II reporting information, any required site specific plan information, and other applicable hazardous material reporting information to responders both on scene and in planning efforts conducted prior to the occurrence of an incident. Most emergency management agencies also have access to geographical information system (GIS) mapping data and can access and produce GIS maps in the field and integrate GIS mapping applications with plume modeling data in a hazmat setting.
One of the best known functions of emergency management agencies and personnel at significant hazmat scenes is the acquisition and coordination of logistical resources. At hazmat incidents in which the logistical needs exceed those of the participating agencies, emergency management personnel should have the contact information necessary to acquire needed logistical assets. From arranging for the delivery of portable toilets to a scene at which personnel will be on scene for an extended period of time to the delivery of food to a hazmat scene, emergency management personnel can serve as the vital link to needed assets. Additionally, emergency management can facilitate the need for logistical assets emanating from outside the immediate area as they arise and handle the fulfillment of such needs. For example, a municipality may need an asset at a hazmat scene that cannot be acquired locally. The municipal emergency management agency will then contact the applicable county emergency management agency, which will then attempt to obtain the needed asset from other sources within the county. If this is not possible, the county emergency management agency will contact the corresponding state emergency management agency, which will then attempt to obtain the needed asset from other counties within the state. If this is not possible, the state emergency management agency may then attempt to obtain the asset from another state utilizing the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which is a variation of a mutual-aid agreement between states that allows for the deployment of needed assets to locations in need.
Local emergency management agencies can also function as a link to specialized state assets. There are seven Hazmat Regional Response Teams (RRT) in North Carolina that respond as technician and specialist-level resources to augment local responders. The RRTs are managed and funded under the auspices of North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) and are housed at fire departments that contract for the provision of such services. Local response agencies can request an RRT response through its county emergency management agency, who then contacts NCEM with the request.
We will now enter into a discussion centered on an often-misunderstood entity — the emergency operations center or EOC (sometimes referred to in a municipal context as a city coordination center or CCC). An EOC is managed by the appropriate emergency management agency and is a secure location at which key decision makers gather to conduct the functions of logistical support, technical support and information sharing. The key word to think of when the term “EOC” is mentioned is coordination. In North Carolina a county EOC is never in command of an incident — unless the county jurisdiction contains a nuclear power plant or a portion of a nuclear power plant emergency planning zone [EPZ], in which an EOC can order evacuation or sheltering-in place measures in a nuclear power plant incident. In fact, emergency management personnel often have to consciously keep an EOC from turning into a fixed-site Command Post (CP). Although many emergency responders are not aware of the functions performed by an EOC unless previously exposed to such a situation, local emergency management can serve as the vital link to the services provided.
Now, back to the hazmat incident scene. How do we know when and to whom to report hazardous materials spills and releases? Your local emergency management agency can assist in this area also. Certain materials released or spilled in certain settings in certain amounts require a report to be filed to specific entities. In some instances, the Responsible Party (RP) is required to contact the National Response Center (NRC), while in other situations a report to state and local emergency management agencies will suffice. Local emergency management agencies can advise on the need for chemical spill or release reporting and will also disseminate the proper reporting information to the appropriate LEPC. In addition, local emergency management agencies can link the Incident Commander or Unified Command with applicable state and federal environmental agencies.
In conclusion, emergency management agencies and personnel can be invaluable assets in the context of a major hazmat response. As hazmat responders, we should strive to get to know our local emergency management personnel and be cognizant of the role that state emergency management plays prior to the occurrence of the next large-scale hazmat incident. If we perform such “homework” prior to the next major response, we can be inclusive and bring emergency management personnel “into the fold” of our command structure to enhance our response capabilities and the response services to our citizens.
As always, stay safe and be sure to visit the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders website at www.nchazmat.com.
Glenn Clapp is Immediate Past President of the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders; and is the Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of High Point and a Fire Training Commander with the High Point Fire Department. He is a Technician-Level Hazmat Instructor, a Law Enforcement Hazmat Instructor; and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and Certified Fire Protection Specialist.
Glenn Clapp is Past President of the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders and is a Fire Training Commander (Special Operations) for the High Point Fire Department. He is a Technician-Level Hazmat Instructor, a Law Enforcement Hazmat Instructor, and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and Certified Fire Protection Specialist.