Emergency Planning is Local

In the 1800’s, Alexis De Tocqueville, writing in his book, “Democracy in America” said, “In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people are the only source of power.” Tip O’Neil may have been thinking of Tocqueville when he said, “All politics are local.” These thoughts could not ring truer than in local emergency planning. Emergency, or disaster, planning is rooted at the local level involving town officials and departments such as fire, police, DPW, Board of Health, etc. While federal and state resources are of immense importance to local communities, local planning and execution may be of ultimate importance as Hurricane Katrina teaches us. Here, federal and state planning broke down, and communities needed to deal with the reality of a disaster on their doorstep.

Sudbury expanded the roots of its emergency planning by getting the community involved. The engine of this grass roots cooperation with town officials and departments began last year with the formation of a Local Emergency Planning Committee, or LEPC. Town officials including Town Manager Maureen Valente, LEPC Chairperson, and Fire Chief Kenneth MacLean, Vice Chairman were instrumental in getting the process started and working toward our goals.

LEPCs across the state and nation are comprised of community volunteers, business, service organizations and town government. The LEPC acts as a catalyst and sounding board to bring these groups together for the goal of enhancing emergency planning. This is what we have begun in Sudbury.

The LEPC is a product of federal legislation passed in the wake of the Bhopal disaster in India, where thousands of people died because of an accident involving hazardous chemicals. To prevent similar occurrences in our communities, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA, also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) in 1986. EPCRA establishes hazardous materials guidelines for business and reporting requirements enabling communities to better plan their emergency response to potential hazardous incidents. Hazardous material locations pose one risk category, transporting hazardous materials on our major roads, such as Route 20, potential major storms, pandemics, and terrorism add to the spectrum of LEPC planning topics. In our state, the Massachusetts Emergency Planning Agency, or MEMA, is our interface into state and federal emergency planning and resources. In Sudbury we have worked with MEMA to form our own LEPC and begin the certification process.

The LEPC’s mission is bringing together town, community, and industries for enhancing hazardous materials preparedness. This includes providing input into the town’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan considering training levels and potential hazardous material incidents and other types of potential emergencies mentioned earlier. Most importantly, is exercising the plan through Table Top Exercises.

Industry involvement is a key part of the planning process to ensure facility plans are coordinated with local emergency plans. For example, businesses that meet hazardous material reporting requirements must identify a facility emergency coordinator, report hazardous materials inventories annually to the Fire Department and the Massachusetts State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). In Sudbury, Raytheon is a member of our LEPC and recently invited the town to attend their emergency planning exercise.

The LEPC serves as a focal point in the community for discussion and information dissemination of information about other types of emergency planning and community preparedness. The potential of an avian flu pandemic is one such topic. Our Health Department is in the process of forming a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) in coordination with the Mass Department of Public Health. The MRC establishes teams of local volunteer medical and public health professionals to contribute their skills and expertise throughout the year as well as during times of community need. We have formed two subcommittees to concentrate on issues such as community preparedness and vulnerable populations such as the elderly in our town. We have worked with the Red Cross to identify sheltering locations and needs and family preparedness in case of an emergency. Recently, the Sudbury League of Women Voters and the Town hosted an Emergency Planning Forum with speakers from many town departments discussing their role in emergency planning and execution. Community questions and feedback completed the loop of community empowerment, so essential in forging a comprehensive emergency plan. Our cable television community access channel replayed this event for wider town distribution.

As an LEPC, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our efforts will coordinate with other local towns, through a new Regional Emergency Planning Committee combining the efforts of the Towns of Sudbury, Wayland, Weston, Concord, and Lincoln. To find out more about Sudbury’s LEPC or to volunteer, contact Richard Simon at rlsimon@comcast.net

Finally, community volunteerism is an essential ingredient for emergency planning. LEPC members represent varied points of view and enable a springboard for new ideas and suggestions. So in remembering Tocqueville and Tip O’Neil, community emergency planning is local.

Sudbury Local Emergency Planning Committee Coordinator, Richard Simon