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LEPC’S ENHANCE LOCAL DISASTER PLANS, RESOURCES

by Captain Dennis DelFava, Executive Officer, NJ Office of Emergency Management
September 2002

All New Jersey communities have a tool which can dramatically enhance the capabilities of their emergency management programs. It involves key municipal officials and community leaders who are experts in their fields. It relies on individuals who know and understand the needs of the community, municipal personnel who have contributed to the emergency management plan and persons who practice that plan regularly. This group is in touch with its constituencies and knows just what resource to apply to any given emergency situation.

It’s the Local Emergency Planning Committee - the LEPC. Emphasis on local.

When the 1986 Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) required that governmental jurisdictions form LEPC’s to develop emergency plans to respond to chemical emergencies, New Jersey honored the “home rule” tradition and required that every municipal and county form an LEPC.

Legally mandated community-based emergency planning was not a new concept. The NJ Civilian Defense and Disaster Control Act (N.J.S.A. App. A:9_33) required every municipality and county to “... create a local emergency management council” and prepare “...written emergency operations plans.” The emergency management council was dedicated to all-hazard planning which already included hazardous materials.

The LEPC and the municipal Emergency Management Council integrated responsibilities under Executive Order 161, signed by Governor Thomas Kean on February 12, 1987. The Order clarified that SARA Title III emergency planning requirements “...would be accomplished in a manner consistent with the provisions of NJSA A:9_33.” The means that in policy and in practice, members of the LEPC and the emergency management council were representing the same agencies; and emergency management councils became known as “LEPC’s.” LEPC’s expanded their hazardous materials planning mission to include natural, technological and civil disasters – the “all-hazard” approach to emergency planning.

The LEPC is a 15-member emergency planning committee which should include representation from the following stakeholder groups and organizations:

  • Elected and local officials
  • Emergency management (the municipal emergency management coordinator serves as the LEPC chairperson)
  • Law enforcement
  • Fire service
  • EMS
  • Health
  • Local environmental and transportation agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Local media representatives
  • Community groups
  • Representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning and Community Right-to-Know requirements (if one is located in the municipality)
  • Local Business leaders

The elected official’s role on the LEPC is

  • To appoint LEPC members (with input from the emergency management coordinator), and
  • To give support and credibility to the emergency planning process. This helps motivate the LEPC to work as a team, and enhances achievement of its emergency management mission – to provide information and resource support to the emergency planning process.

One of the most difficult tasks of running an LEPC is “full plate syndrome” – committee members who lack time to attend quarterly meetings, participate in exercises, assess hazards and review plans. Executive and financial support of the LEPC mission is critical, especially in the post-September 11th emergency management era, when high-stakes disasters place local responders on the front lines of dangerous and complex situations such as terrorism, school shootings, and flash flooding in highly populated metropolitan areas.

The US Environmental Protection Agency offers the philosophy behind LEPC’s “... members represent the community and they should be familiar with factors that affect public safety, the environment, and the economy of the community. That expertise will be essential as the LEPC develops a plan tailored to the needs of its planning district.”

Knowledge of the municipality – its residents, land use, hazards, geography, infrastructure, economics, culture and critical facilities – is also essential for disaster recovery. After an incident occurs, local officials collect disaster intelligence – information concerning death, injuries, damage assessments, roads, utilities, housing conditions, etc. The more credible and more accurate the intelligence, the better case that can be made for a request for disaster recovery assistance. If a Presidential disaster declaration is received, FEMA will look to local counterparts to help them tour affected areas and begin the process for damage claims.

One of the less-emphasized responsibilities of the LEPC has been is its role as a focal point for community members regarding discussions about hazards, emergency planning, and the health and environmental risks of disasters. Citizens should expect the LEPC to be able reply to questions about what hazards the community faces and address concerns about how prepared the community is to respond to them.

An NJOEM post-September 11th survey of New Jersey’s municipal emergency management agencies revealed that 92% describe their LEPC’s as “active.” Cranford Township Police Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator Harry Wilde takes it a step further - “...our LEPC is constantly evolving... a resource which should be prioritized and targeted where needed...heavily influenced by current events.”

Chief Wilde chairs a 20+ member LEPC, assigning members into subcommittees which meet on an as-needed basis. Over his 10-year term, he’s relied on Mayors to play an active role in the process and hasn’t been disappointed. “Our Mayor has always chosen to be active in the LEPC process – particularly when communicating hazard information to residents. When a crises hits, this sends an important message about where the town is at and where it’s going.”

Cranford’s also forged an important partnership with their local access television station which serves 6 communities and 80,000 residents. They can “go live” with public information from the 9-1-1 center at the flip of a switch. “Different mayors have different communication styles, but when the chief elected official speaks directly to community members, they pay attention to what’s going on.”
When the stakes are high Wilde expands the LEPC team to meet the need, taking disaster history and expertise of the LEPC member into account. “In a flood event,” he explains, “we know who gets notified and who to bring in when the telemetry reaches certain stages.”

Appointing the Cranford Superintendent of Schools as an LEPC member has also increased the quality of decisions about school crises issues. Wilde explains that, “During the World Trade Center incident many communities closed schools early, but the Superintendent and I jointly agreed that it would be a lot safer for kids if we kept schools open. We didn’t want to create a situation with a lot of latchkey kids, especially in light of what was being broadcast on television. If the Superintendent had unilaterally made a decision about an unplanned school closing, it could have caused the town a lot of problems.”

Wilde’s also enthusiastic about an upcoming school project with the FirstData corporation, “Operation Safe and Secure.” This initiative will help middle school students develop confidence in their school’s own safety systems, heighten security awareness, lessen anxiety and provide cursory skills in safety and risk management. The students will experience hands-on learning about structural, environmental, and social techniques to mitigate dangers.

“An LEPC should work the Mayor and Emergency Management Coordinator to constantly examine contemporary problems, assess their impact on the community and use time-tested methods - emergency planning, training, and exercising – to reduce risk to community members,” Wilde said.

LEPC members’ contributions are essential to an effective emergency management program. If a municipality views LEPC formation as a paperwork exercise, then it will become just an administrative burden having no value to the community. When given appropriate executive and financial support, the LEPC enables a municipality to respond as a coordinated, effective unit ready to address residents’ needs when disaster strikes.

For more information on LEPC’s contact NJOEM Community Relations at 609-538-6065, crnjoem@gw.njsp.org.


SIDEBAR

LEPC - LEGAL REFERENCES

NJSA App.A:9_41. Local emergency management councils

NJ Governor’s Executive Order 161 (1987) - Implementation of the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

2A:62-A-15 - Immunity to Local Emergency Planning Committee Members
(click on “statutes” lower left-hand corner)

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act - P.L. 99-400 - Requires chemical handling facilities to prepare annual chemical inventories and maintain emergency response plans. It also requires an emergency planning structure be instituted for the state and local emergency planning committees.


SIDEBAR

ADDITIONAL WEB RESOURCES

NJOEM Exercise Pass-Through Grant - This program is designed to award funding to county and municipal LEPC’s to develop and conduct exercise scenarios which accurately measure planning and response capabilities to one or more of the threats identified in the municipality’s emergency operations plan. It is a pass-through program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency which has been active for several years. As of this writing, the NJOEM is awaiting information on the status of the program in the FY2003 federal budget. Information on this grant will be posted on the NJOEM website as soon as it becomes available.

US EPA Fact Sheet: “Addressing Terrorist Activities in the Local Emergency Plan” [pdf]



Photo captions:

Photo #1: “ Executive and financial support of the LEPC mission is critical, especially in the post-September 11th emergency management era, when high-stakes disasters place local responders on the front lines of dangerous and complex situations such as terrorism, school shootings, and flash flooding in highly populated metropolitan areas.”

Photo #2 - Cranford School Crises Response Exercise. An LEPC should work the Mayor and Emergency Management Coordinator to constantly examine contemporary problems, assess their impact on the community and use time-tested methods - emergency planning, training, and exercising – to reduce risk to community members.



 
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