People regularly affected by natural disasters prepare and make plans: they stockpile food and supplies in a household disaster kit, make communication plans with family and friends, and know how and when to evacuate. Likewise, communities prepare with emergency operation plans and local congregations plan to provide spiritual care.
Similar plans may be developed for effective support of the community following the onset of a technology-caused disaster when the hazards have been identified and networks established.
Community Assessment and Preparedness
Preparation for possible or probable technology-caused disasters includes three primary components:
assessing the existing or potential hazards
identifying the associated dangers
building viable networks, partnerships, and resource assets
A checklist to help you learn about the possible hazards and assess your community's preparedness includes:
Contact local emergency management agency officials (village, town, county or city) to learn about the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Become familiar with their plans for response to toxic material incidents relative to railroad right-of-ways, highways, manufacturing or research facilities, fuel or agricultural chemical storage, and fires.
Contact state and federal environmental protection agencies (see Resource Appendix #3). Ask about currently active and formerly contaminated sites in your area, complaints about air or water quality in recent years, and new efforts on their part to ensure public safety.
Call state and local health departments (see your local phone book). Ask about: air, water, and soil quality complaints; known clusters or outbreaks of asthma, cancer, birth defects, and undiagnosed maladies; and fish or bird kills. Ask about their registries of health issues, and if they have identified a "hot spot" or cluster of illnesses that may be environmentally related.
Contact local chapters of state or national environmental groups (see a partial list in the Resource Appendix #3). Ask what they are tracking that may have an impact on your area. Remember to ask about upstream and upwind!
Map your community. Identify business districts, residential areas, industries, houses of worship, and social service agencies. Identify hazards such as dumpsites, transportation routes for trucks/railroads/ships, and industrial or hospital incinerators. Identifying drinking water sources, water and sewage treatment facilities, and direction of prevailing winds and water flow.
Identify potentially vulnerable neighborhoods, families, or individuals who should be contacted immediately following an incident. Also... invite their participation in planning, serving as a part of the network, and identifying resource assets as discussed in the next section. (See a section on vulnerability later in this guidebook)
Building Networks, Partnerships and Local Resources
Beginning to know the hazards in your geographical area is crucial, but just as important to the pre-disaster planning is establishing a strong community network to, at the least, convene early response coordination and, in the best case scenario, later provide leadership for long-term recovery. Having a directory of contacts is a vital first step.
A checklist for building a valuable directory of persons and agencies who can form a network, a response/recovery taskforce, or committee includes contacting:
Representatives from groups identified in the previous Community Assessment and Preparedness section to be a part of your planning.
Congregations and ecumenical/multi-faith groups, state councils of churches, seminaries, and faith-based organizations. Tell them of your intent, offer to send a speaker, and learn of their current work on environmental health concerns.
Social service agencies and disaster service providers. They may provide rapid response and material needs as a part of their normal programs, and may be able to offer expanded services for technology-caused disasters whena part of your planning.
Neighborhood, sub-division, or community associations that reflect the diversity of your community.
Community leaders, formal and informal decisions-makers, and organizations that reflect the uniqueness of your community who will help ensure successful networking and planning.
Labor unions and workers' rights associations with chapters or affiliates in your area. Forcus on industrial, health care, and agricultureal unions and tell them of your interests and ask if they are working on similar issues. Some will focus on the health and safety of their members.
Local college departments in such areas as chemistry, engineering, environmental sciences, health, and agriculture. Ask not only what they might be working on that could provide beneficial expertise, but also discover the languages spoken by students and faculty that might be of use in reaching area residents.
Newspaper and television reporters specializing in business, religion, and environmental or health concerns.
Attorneys (local or nearby citities) who specialize or have experience in environmental issues, corporate liability, class action suits, etc.
Local chapters of professional societies for waste management, agriculture, natural resources, environmental sciences, or associations of recreational groups such as spelunkers, fishing, or hiking.
Local government officials especially county or city emergency response managers.
Learning and Planning Tips for Local Congregations
Congregations have many opportunities to become prepared for response to a technology-caused disaster and help your community be prepared and respond effectively. But it will take some hard work, decision-making, and educational efforts on the part of the congregation.
Step 1: The Hard Questions
Step 2: Learning More
The mission sytle of the congregation is historically characterized by significant involvement in community problems and social jusstice issues
The church governing body is willing to discuss and/or act on the disaster
Sponsor informational activities such as forums, seminars, or community meetings that feature local experts, union and industry representatives, health and emergency management officials, waste management firms; invite the public.
Pastor and congregation have agreed that they have an active ministry to fulfill in the event of a technology-caused disaster in their community.
Provide space for community group meetings that address the issues; even if the congregation isn't involved!
The congregation is willing to discuss putting its life/health "on the line" as it responds to a technology-caused disaster
Work with American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, or other sheltering agencies to qualify as an emergency shelter.
The congregation is able to make decisions about leadership and level of involvement
Work with congregations in the community to plan for provision of appropriate spiritual care when a crisis strikes the comunity; seek training to support this effort (see section on spiritual care later in the guidebook as well as Resource Appendix #2)
"There won't be much left ..."
Vincentown, NJ: State health officials checked drinking water for contamination while searching for above-ground home heating oil tanks swept away by fast-moving waters. One tank had floated a mile.
The storm had dumped more than 13 inches of rain in 24 hours, causing 12 dams to break and creating severe floods. "Septic systems overflowed, household and commercial chemicals, fuel and other unpleasant things swirled in the water, making a very nasty situation," said the director of the Burlington County Department of Natural resource Conservation. People were warned that those wading through floodwaters could become infected with E. coli or contract other diseases and were urged to get tetanus vaccines.
Standing in her flooded backyard, Amanda Smith looked at a thick layer of fuel oil gently rocking on topoe of the water. "Between the water, fuel oil, and who knows what else, we are throwing away everything made of wood, plastic, and fabric. There won't be much left when we are done clearing out," she said.
The New York Times, "As Flooding Recedes in New Jersey, Other Hazards Surface", July 16, 2004 By John Holl.
"The sludge made the rivers iridescent black ..."
October 11, 2000, near Inez, Kentucky, 200-300 million gallons of liquefied coal waste sludge (about 30 times the amount of oil released in the Exxon Valdez oil spill) broke through a mountain-top containment dam. State and federal officials say the spill is one of the worst environmental disasters in the Applachian mountain region; the mining company described it as "an act of God; a sudden and unexpected underground mine collapse". The dam failure sent a rush of water and fine coal refuse 75 miles into local streams and eventually into the Big Sandy River bordering Kentucky and West Virginia. The sludge turned the rivers and streams an iridescent black and killed all aquatic life according to State fish and wildllife officials. Local communities closed water intakes to their public water supplies.
As of 2000, there were more than 600 sludge impoundments across the Appalachian coalfields. Chemical analyses of this sludge indicate it contains large amounts of arsenic, mercury, lead, copper, and chromium, among other toxins, which eventually seep into the drinking water supply of nearby communities. Even worse than this seepage, however, is the threat of a dam break. At present, there are 45 impoundments in West Virginia alone that are considered at high risk for failure, and 32 are at moderate risk.
"Chat mountains, orange water, and holes in the ground ..."
The Tar Creek Superfund site in northeast Oklahoma encompasses 40 square miles with 15,000 people living in the area.
125 feet beneath the surface, decades after the industry's heyday, more than 26 billion gallons of acidic water fill the empty lead, zinc and cadmium mines abandoned by mining companies. The mining left hundreds of bore holes and sink holes enabling seepage which flows orange as a basketball and laden with heavy metals.
Tar Creek flows into rivers that feed Grand Lake of the Cherokee. Many people on subsistence income depend on the fish they catch for food.
Just beyond the yards of homes and schools, millions of cubic yards of mining waste, or "chat piles," loom like mountains. Contaminated dust is everywhere, having been used in school yards, sand boxes, under the foundations of homes, and road ways. When the toxic level of the chat was discovered, a moratorium was placed on public use; despite the toxicity, the chat is still being sold and shipped to other states.
In 1993, a student examining health records in the clinic observed that the number of children in the area with extremely high levels of lead was a much higher percentage than in the rest of the state.
Since 1996, the EPA has removed contaminated soil in over 2,000 yards of families with children; some of the lawns were contaminated again by run-off or dust in as little as eleven days.