In mylast column, I told you about Aetna Plating Co., a Cleveland-based company that burned to the ground in spring of 1997. It's speculated that the culprit was an electric process heater with fusible links and low level controls. According to owner Peter Sobey, had he know better and done his homework, it would not have taken more than five years for Aetna Plating to be operational again.

When disaster strikes, there are many questions from the fire department and hazardous materials (hazmat) response crews that will have to be answered. For instance:

  • Where is the inventory and location of any and all hazardous substances?

  • Where are your material safety data sheets (MSDS)?

  • Where are your utility shutoffs located?

  • Did you file your emergency contingency plan?

  • Do you have an emergency response team?

Are you prepared to answer these questions -- and more? If a disaster strikes, there will be a great deal of commotion, and you will need concise answers that might not be so easy to provide as you watch your company burn down. Also, you will want to keep your homework in a safe place so that answers can be provided readily.

Assignment #1: Training

The first step to being prepared for the disaster that you hope will never happen is to train your employees in a number of areas.

Spill Control and Countermeasures. This includes training the entire staff about the location of hazardous substances, spill control resources and fire fighting equipment. In addition, designate spill response and fire fighting personnel and provide fire extinguisher training.

Fire Alarm and Notification Procedures. Again, the entire staff should be trained. Key points here include evacuation procedures and the location and notification procedures of emergency medical and local emergency response agencies.

Response Team. Designate a group of employees to serve as your response team, and train its members on the following pertinent regulations, including OSHA HAZWOPER, which is the commonly used term for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's hazardous waste operations regulations, and U.S. DOT HAZMAT, which is the commonly used term for the United States Department of Transportation's hazardous materials regulations. In addition, conduct:

  • Hands-on drills in the use of cleanup materials and equipment.

  • Scenario drills for responding to releases or fires in key areas of the plant.

  • Emergency response training for management emergency response personnel.

  • Periodic desktop exercises to familiarize management team with specific roles in managing emergency situations, particularly media and community relations.

Finally, train all team members on implementation of facility spill pollution control and countermeaures (SPCC) plan and hazmat response plan.

Immediate notifications after a disaster will include state and federal environmental protection agencies as well as the local sewer district or control agency if there has been an out-of-compliance release to air, water (sewer, storm stream, etc.) or ground from your plant. It is for these reasons that proper training is so important.

In my next column, I will give you two more Sobey-specified homework assignments. You will learn how to respond to a disaster while complying with local, state and federal regulations. And be prepared to learn how to document an insurance claim.

Outside Agencies that Affect an Emergency Response Team

The following outside forces impact your response team. You will want to ensure that you are complying with all their requirements should you be faced in dealing with a disaster.

  • Local area emergency planning ("Right to Know") agency.

  • National emergency response center (U.S. DOT, U.S. EPA, Coast Guard).

  • Local fire department.

  • State fire marshal.

  • Local and state police.

  • Sewer district.

  • State EPA emergency response unit.

Peter Sobey, owner of Cleveland-based Aetna Plating, says that if you know which agencies need what information before a disaster, you will save yourself many headaches and time.