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September is National Preparedness Month

Published September 26, 2017

EPA scientists and engineers are working to protect human health and the environment in the face of emergencies and natural disasters. Learn more about some of EPA’s research to prepare for and respond to these threats below.

EPA is currently responding to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. For the latest information, see EPA’s Hurricane Response page.

There are over twenty wildfires currently burning in the United States. Each one can have tremendous health and environmental effects. EPA recently updated the 2016 Wildfire Smoke: Guide for Public Health Officials (PDF), an outline of whose health is most affected by wildfire smoke, how to reduce exposure to smoke, what public health actions are recommended, and how to communicate air quality to the public.

Protecting communities from wildfire smoke starts with figuring out who is at risk. EPA scientists created the Community Health Vulnerability Index to identify communities at risk from wildfire smoke. Health officials can use the tool, together with air quality models, to protect the health of people living in areas where air quality is impaired, either by wildfire smoke or other sources of pollution.

You can help EPA prepare for the impacts of wildfire smoke. Download the Smoke Sense mobile app to help EPA researchers learn more about the effects of wildfire smoke and develop communications strategies that protect the public during smoky days. You can also use the app to learn about wildfires and smoke health risks in your area.

Parts of the Northeastern United States are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. EPA is helping a community in Rhode Island develop strategies to protect them from future extreme weather events. Part of this effort includes working with partners to build a “living shoreline” and improving marsh condition to better withstand flooding. 

Our nation’s drinking water systems can be vulnerable to industrial accidents, natural disasters, or intentional attacks. To better protect—and if necessary, decontaminate—these systems, EPA researchers have partnered with the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to build the Water Security Test Bed. It’s the nation’s first full-scale, above-ground drinking water distribution system.

Disasters can have devastating consequences for human health and the environment. While not all disasters can be prevented, the potential harms and risks they pose can be mitigated with the right tools and actions. EPA scientists put together an inventory of tools that can help communities become more resilient to disasters.

Decontamination doesn’t have to be high-tech. EPA researchers found that using off-the-shelf humidifiers with 3% or 8% aqueous hydrogen peroxide vapor solutions for one week are effective for decontaminating most materials contaminated with an anthrax surrogate. Researchers used the method in a test house to determine the most promising solutions for home and business owners.

In large cities, underground transportation systems are a part of everyday life. In the event of a biological incident, a rapid return to service of these critical infrastructure systems is necessary. That's why EPA is collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security to improve the recovery capabilities for a subway system.

Preparing for a widespread biological incident is difficult in a densely populated place like New York City. That’s why researchers from EPA and the Sandia National Lab are helping the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene prepare an environmental response and remediation plan for incidents such as the release of anthrax. In addition to improving preparedness, the plan also provides a response and remediation framework for other metropolitan areas across the country.