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Is Your Business Fully Prepared for a Fire, Spill or Similar Emergency?

Events such as fires, explosions or major spills can have a sudden and drastic impact on your business.  While business owners typically have at least a basic evacuation plan and know to call 911, not all businesses take the additional steps needed to prepare fully their facility personnel and emergency responders.

Significant advance preparation is needed to truly minimize the effects of such a disaster.  There have been several local instances where fire departments have delayed entry into a facility on fire because nobody knew exactly what materials were burning and what toxins that fire may be emitting.  As a result, firefighting efforts were hampered and delayed, and the value of the property loss and the size of the business interruption grew due to something as simple as a missing material safety data sheet (MSDS).

To the other extreme, there also was a local incident where responders entered a fire scene without fully knowing what was burning, resulting in more than a million dollars in damage to firefighting equipment and numerous firefighters seeking treatment for respiratory problems.  In both cases, this is a nightmare scenario for a business owner, and it is they type of event that could challenge the very existence of a business.

Resources Available
Fortunately, with a reasonable amount of effort up front, the likelihood of such a scenario playing out at your facility can be greatly reduced.  As an initial matter, there are several regulatory programs that require many facilities to have formal plans in place to deal with such emergencies.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has a document on their website entitled "Guidelines for the Development and Implementation of Environmental Emergency Response Plans" to help facilities develop a spill/emergency response plan that will comply with numerous state and federal regulatory requirements.  Preparing such a plan and having it available and accessible in an emergency (and not only located inside the facility) is a critical planning step.

In addition, facilities that store in excess of a threshold quantity of any extremely hazardous substance (EHS) are required under federal law to work with the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to develop an offsite plan to deal with a chemical spill or release.  You might assume that your facility does not have any listed EHS chemicals onsite, and certainly not in excess of a threshold quantity.  However, this is a dangerous assumption as planning thresholds can be exceeded by something as seemingly innocuous as several battery powered lift trucks (due to the presence of in excess of 1000 pounds of sulfuric acid in the batteries combined). 

All manufacturers and other entities with chemicals stored or used onsite should contact their LEPC to review their need for an offsite plan as well as to understand the additional Tier II reporting requirements that apply to other hazardous substances stored onsite.  In Erie County, that contact is made through the Erie County Department of Public Safety.  Data provided to the Erie County LEPC is shared with Erie County's Hazardous Materials Response Team as well as all local fire departments.

Upcoming Workshop
The Erie County LEPC has scheduled a training workshop for facility personnel for the afternoon of February 12, and businesses are encouraged to attend. The workshop will be geared toward working with facility Environmental Health and Safety personnel to evaluate chemical hazards, gather data on chemicals and begin preparing plans for dealing with such hazards.  Please contact Brian Mesaros at 814-451-7924 to register.  Providing this required information in advance allows the emergency responders to preplan for a potential event at your facility, which helps to ensure an efficient response.