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Tribal Compliance Assistance Center

Public Safety Management

Background Information
Homeland Security
Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention
Fire Protection and Emergency Response
Police Protection
Pollution Prevention

Background Information

Tribal governments help ensure public safety and provide emergency planning, fire protection, and police protection. Emergency planning and response activities include analyzing community hazards, developing a local emergency response plan to prepare for and respond to oil and chemical emergencies, and responding to hazards and suppressing them.

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Homeland Security

Tribes can work with EPA to identify and reduce vulnerabilities and respond to and plan for emergencies. EPA's Office of Water: Water Security Division Web site provides resources for water utilities, tribal governments, public health officials, emergency responders and planners, assistance and training providers, environmental professionals, researchers and engineers, and law enforcement, among others.

Tribes may also face environmental emergencies, a sudden threat to the public health, or the well-being of the environment, arising from the release or potential release of oil, radioactive materials, or hazardous chemicals into the air, land, or water. These emergencies may occur from transportation accidents, events at chemical or other facilities using or manufacturing chemicals, or as a result of natural or man-made disaster events. While there are many other serious environmental problems with which tribes and EPA are concerned, these activities are focused generally on sudden, immediate threats. Additional information is available from EPA's Environmental Emergencies Web site.

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Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention

The RCRA, Superfund, and EPCRA Training Module (PDF) (29 pp, 188K, About PDF) contains release-reporting requirements, gives some general information on EPCRA, and provides hotline phone numbers.

In general, tribal governments have the basic responsibility for understanding risks posed by chemicals, managing and reducing those risks, and handling emergencies on land under their jurisdiction. Some tribal governments must meet requirements both as regulated entities, and as regulators, under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). EPCRA regulates both emergency planning and the dissemination of information on certain chemicals to the public.

EPCRA and the Clean Air Act's (CAA) chemical accident prevention provisions in section 112(r), require facilities to report on hazardous chemicals they store or handle. These two laws provide an array of complementary information on what chemicals are in the community: what chemicals are present at each location, what hazards these chemicals pose, what chemical releases have occurred in the area, and, what steps industry is taking to prevent additional accidents. The information can be used to enhance the community emergency response plan and protect tribal communities from chemical hazards.

Planning: Tribal Emergency Response Commissions and Other Options

Eligible tribes may assume the same role as states in the development of chemical emergency preparedness and prevention programs under EPCRA and the CAA. There are several other options available to tribes to ensure effective EPCRA coverage in Indian country; these options involve working with another tribe, or a consortium of tribes, or the state within which it is located, to achieve a workable program. Every community in the United States, including Indian reservations, must be part of a comprehensive plan.

Tribal Emergency Response Committee

Visit EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Web site for information about chemical emergency preparedness and prevention programs and initiatives administered by EPA and other organizations. Tribes may wish to review the Gila River Indian Communities emergency planning code at the Model Tribal Emergency Response Commission Ordinance Exit EPA Disclaimer page.

Under sections 301-303m of EPCRA Exit EPA Disclaimer, tribal governments that do not enter into cooperative agreements with states or other tribes establish Tribal Emergency Response Committees (TERCs) to ensure the development of an emergency planning and implementation structure sufficient to meet the reservation's needs. A TERC functions as the focal point of EPCRA compliance, regardless of how much the tribe works independently or contracts with outside agencies. If a TERC is not established, and the tribal government has not entered into a cooperative agreement to provide this function, then the tribal executive branch (this may be the tribal chief executive or body) operates as the TERC and is responsible for the planning committee's functions.

EPA administrates many emergency preparedness and prevention programs.

TERCs can provide training, technical assistance, and information to communities within Indian country so they know what to do in the event of a chemical accident. Additionally, TERCs establish procedures for receiving and processing public requests for information collected under EPCRA, and obtain further information about a particular chemical or facility, when needed. Finally, TERCs supervise a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Federal funding for TERC activities may be available from EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office or from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

LEPC Responsibilities

Tribal governments that establish TERCs are not required to establish a LEPC. If a TERC decides to establish a LEPC, then the LEPC could be given authority to develop a contingency plan to prepare for and respond to emergencies involving hazardous substances on the reservation. If the TERC does not establish a LEPC, then the TERC is responsible for all aspects of the emergency planning and response program outlined below.

If a tribe forms a LEPC, its membership includes, at a minimum, tribal officials such as police, fire, civil defense, public health, transportation and environmental professionals, industry representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning requirements of EPCRA, community groups, and the news media. All members of the LEPC may be tribal members.

A LEPC-developed contingency plan should include:

In addition to requirements imposed by EPCRA and the CAA, tribal governments must comply with all applicable federal right-to-know laws. Tribal governments may require steps in addition to the ones imposed by EPCRA.

Other Emergency Response Options

Tribal governments may decide not to establish a TERC. Instead, tribal governments may decide to develop an EPCRA program through formal collaboration with another tribe or tribes, or the adjacent state(s). These collaborative EPCRA programs could be designed to meet specific tribal needs and leverage resources. For example, a TERC could implement some but not all of EPCRA's requirements, while allowing a state to implement other appropriate parts of the program through a cooperative agreement with the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Another option is for a tribe to authorize the SERC to perform appropriate functions of the TERC within Indian country, to establish a LEPC, or join an off-reservation LEPC, that works directly with the SERC through a cooperative agreement.

Risk Management Program

The National Safety Council's Environmental Health Center Exit EPA Disclaimer Web site contains information on Risk Management Programs, including safety, compliance, and enforcement issues.

Under CAA section 112(r), all chemical facilities with processes exceeding a threshold quantity for 77 acutely toxic substances (such as chlorine and ammonia) and 63 highly volatile flammable substances (when used as fuel) must adopt a Risk Management Program (RMP). All facilities must submit a summary, with RMP, to EPA. The RMP includes:

At present, EPA has authority for implementing CAA section 112(r) for Indian country. Tribes that EPA finds eligible for treatment in the same manner as a state under the CAA's Tribal Air Rule can apply for authorization to administer the RMP program. Under this approach tribes should ensure that their chemical safety regulatory program is at least as stringent as the federal program in order to strengthen enforcement capabilities.

Providing Chemical Information to the Public

Under EPCRA, LEPCs receive hazardous chemical inventory and emergency release information submitted by facilities and have access to toxic chemical release information supplied by facilities to EPA. LEPCs can provide this information to tribal officials, tribal community leaders, and the public to aid in preparing for emergencies and managing chemical risks.

Local Emergency Planning Commitees (LEPCs) receive hazardous chemical inventories from the EPA that they can then provide to tribal communities.

The following describes the EPCRA reporting requirements for chemicals:

Combined with hazard and exposure information, EPA's TRI Explorer Web site can be a valuable tool for risk identification.

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Fire Protection and Emergency Response

Tribal governments may be responsible for providing fire protection services to their communities. Fire protection services and responsibilities include fire response and suppression (i.e., firefighting), salvage (i.e., pumping water out of basements), investigation of fires, repair and maintenance of equipment, and fire prevention. Tribal fire departments may also be the first to respond to a hazardous chemical emergency (i.e., hazardous response).

Some tribal governments have their own fire departments that operate on the reservation. These fire departments have their own equipment and employees and operate within the reservation boundaries. Other tribes contract with off-reservation fire departments and private companies to provide firefighting services on the reservation. Several tribes coordinate with fire departments from surrounding jurisdictions to provide "first response" and other services to reservations and the surrounding areas.

The size and type of tribal firefighting operations depend upon several factors, such as population density, cost, reservation size, the range and type of flammable objects, topography, and staffing abilities.

Fire Protection

Fire departments have a primary role in emergency planning and mitigation, including fire response and suppression, and hazardous materials response. Because fire protection activities can affect the environment, they may be subject to environmental laws and regulations, as indicated in the following list:

Emergency Planning

Firefighters may be appointed to TERCs/LEPCs under the emergency planning provisions of EPCRA. Tribal fire departments may also receive information about hazardous chemicals from facilities in the form of MSDSs or lists of MSDS chemicals and hazardous chemical inventory forms which are submitted to the TERC and LEPC. Tribal first responders should be properly trained to deal with emergencies involving chemical hazards.

Fire Response and Suppression

Agents used for fire suppression vary based on the location and type of fire. Halons, which are low toxicity, chemically stable compounds, have been used historically for fire and explosion protection. Halons are now known to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and have been phased out of production; the production and importation of new halons is banned in the United States. Recycled halon is now the only source of supply.

Firefighters use a number of traditional fire extinguishing agents, including water, carbon dioxide, dry chemicals, and foam, that are good alternatives to halons for many fire protection applications. Research has led to the commercialization of new agents and technologies, such as halocarbon compounds, inert gas mixtures, water-mist or fogging systems, and powdered aerosols. The potential environmental impacts from firefighting activities using water are soil and water contamination from runoff. Also, many conventional synthetic foams contain solvents regulated under EPCRA.

Emergency Response to Hazardous Materials Release

The Emergencies, Accidents, and Spills page of EPA's Solid Waste and Emergency Response Web site has up-to-date information on Emergency Response - sudden threats to the public health and the environment arising from the release or potential release of oil, radioactive materials, or hazardous chemicals into the air, land, or water.

In the event of a spill, TERCs and LEPCs can take the steps necessary to protect public health and safety as well as the environment.

If another party is responsible for a hazardous materials spill, tribes may seek to bill the responsible party for the expenses incurred in protecting the community and the environment. In addition, reimbursement may be sought for any materials used by safety personnel to control a spill, protect the environment, and mitigate the hazard.

Depending upon the type of hazardous material released, various response techniques may be used to control the spill and minimize the impacts on human health and the environment. The key to effectively combating spills is careful selection and proper use of the equipment and materials most suited to the type of spill and the conditions at the spill site. The types of response techniques include:

Response techniques:
  • Mechanical containment and recovery
  • Chemical and biological methods
  • Physical Methods

Sorbents contaminated with hazardous materials must be disposed of according to the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA.

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Police Protection

Tribal police protection involves law enforcement, traffic safety, and other activities related to preservation of law and order in areas that contain tribal members. Some tribal governments have assumed police responsibilities entirely while other tribes either contract with, or rely on, BIA for this service. In either case, primary policing responsibilities include patrol, investigative/detective force, traffic regulation, and crime prevention.

Firing Ranges

Firing practices may contaminate the soil, and possibly the groundwater, with lead from the birdshot, bullets, and bullet fragments, as well as produce airborne lead dust.

Police officers as well as the general public may use various firing ranges to practice their shooting.

Firing ranges can install devices that intercept and collect the shot and bullets for recycling and substitute less hazardous materials (e.g., plastic and steel shot) for the lead shot. To reduce and/or eliminate lead pollution, many indoor and outdoor firing ranges use bullet "traps." Bullet traps use a rubber medium to capture bullets and contain them, as well as a filter system to eliminate airborne lead dust. These traps prevent the lead pollution of air and soil, which would normally occur from a bullet's impact with metal, sand, or the ground. Most firing ranges hire salvage companies to recover, clean, and recycle the bullet traps and filter systems. The disposal of bullets and bullet fragments recovered from a bullet trap may be regulated under the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA.

EPA's current position is that firing of birdshot, bullets, and bullet fragments at firing ranges is considered to be within the normal and expected use pattern of the manufactured product, and is not a waste management activity subject to the RCRA regulations. The bullets and bullet fragments are not characterized as "hazardous wastes" because they have not been discarded. Where an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment may have been created by expended shot or debris, however, remedial requirements may apply under RCRA. In addition, the remediation of lead-contaminated soil at a firing range, either for maintenance or site closure, is regulated under the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA and/or CERCLA. Under the provisions of EPCRA, firing ranges must report releases of lead dust transported by the wind. A release is reportable when more than 1 pound of lead particles smaller than 0.004 inches in diameter is released beyond the boundaries of the site or facility.

A discharge of lead shot, other ammunition, or broken targets into waters of the United States would be considered a discharge of pollutants into navigable waters and, thus, require a CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. EPA's policy on shooting ranges is found in "Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges".

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Pollution Prevention and Public Safety

Public safety operations, especially emergency planning and response activities, can involve tribal, industry and other community representatives. Within the public safety arena, tribal governments have responsibilities as a regulated entity, an enforcement agent, a generator of various waste streams, and a provider of quality services to the constituents they serve. Pollution prevention can help tribal governments efficiently and effectively meet the regulatory requirements associated with public safety operations, provide value added services, and protect their community from chemical emergencies. The three primary functions associated with public safety are emergency planning, fire protection and emergency response, and police protection. The opportunities for pollution prevention within these three primary functions can best be realized by examining both a list of the wastes generated and the specific services provided through each of these functions.

Pollution Prevention: Emergency Planning

There are many pollution prevention opportunities associated with emergency planning. This is true even though no significant wastes are associated with emergency planning other than any wastes created by the clean up of a specific release.

Tribes involved in emergency planning and response can promote and use pollution prevention as a tool to better manage the risks in their communities by working with facilities to reduce and eliminate the chemicals posing the risk. Through EPCRA, tribes and communities are provided valuable information regarding the presence, quantities, and release of chemicals in their environment. This information can be used to identify prevention priorities and establish a basis for tribes, tribal members, and EPA to target and approach specific facilities.

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Pollution Prevention: Fire Protection and Emergency Response

Pollution prevention opportunities associated with fire prevention and emergency response include limiting the use and generation of waste. Fire protection services usually involve vehicle and equipment maintenance activities similar to those associated with public works and other tribal government operations. Specific guidance regarding pollution prevention opportunities for vehicle/equipment maintenance operations is available at Pollution Prevention in Vehicle/Equipment Maintenance.

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Pollution Prevention: Police Protection

Many activities related to police protection can produce waste, including photoprocessing wastes (fixers, developers, film cleaners, etc.), vehicle maintenance wastes, gun cleaning wastes (solvents, rags), shooting range wastes (spent casings, lead slugs, lead dust emissions), batteries, and office paper and other solid wastes.

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For related information visit EPA’s National Indian Country Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priority site and EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program in Indian country site.

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