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Being prepared for an emergency is something we can all do

09/24/2018

By:          Alexandra Dunn, Regional Administrator
                U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New England Region

Protecting human health and the environment – the core mission of EPA – could not be more important than during times of emergency. In the aftermath situations like Hurricane Florence and the natural gas explosions northeastern Massachusetts, it seems essential to reflect on emergency preparedness. No one wants to be impacted by a natural disaster, but they do happen, as we have seen in the last few weeks, and it's in everyone's interest to be prepared.

As a government agency, EPA prepares for emergencies as a regular part of our job. EPA's emergency response program responds to oil spills, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents, and large-scale national emergencies, including homeland security incidents. EPA provides support when requested or when state and local first responder capabilities have been exceeded.

We are closely connected with our federal and state partners, before, during and after an emergency. If EPA is called in to help and we have the appropriate legal authority, we work together with our partners as we assess the damage, cleanup, and restore the impacted area.

Preparing for natural disasters can greatly reduce the risks to health and the environment. Hurricanes or floods can contaminate drinking water sources. Forest fires harm air quality. Tornadoes or earthquakes, by damaging factories or storage facilities, can release contaminants where people live or into the environment. Chemical accidents or releases at industrial facilities can also impact our air, water and land. Extreme winter weather can close roads and compromise structures and infrastructure.

We all depend on local authorities and government agencies to be ready to respond to such events, but there are also plenty of things you can do as individuals to be prepared. Most importantly you can create an emergency plan. Learn about making an emergency plan, from Ready.gov.

You can also learn more about risks of natural disasters, and specifically what to do to protect your health and your family's health. For example, improper use of portable generators or heating devices can release deadly carbon monoxide to indoor air. Ice-melting agents used improperly can pollute waterways. Large amounts of debris can present serious disposal problems for states and local communities. Owners or operators of damaged facilities may be responsible for reporting spills.

It's also important to know that some environmental emergencies can be avoided. It's important to report suspected spills, contamination, or possible violations if you see them. You can do that by calling the 24-hour toll free National Response Center here 800-424-8802.

In the event of an emergency learn how to stay connected with your local, state and federal authorities. It's important for all of us to be prepared and help each other in these events. Protecting health and safety and the environment is a priority for us all.