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Waste Management Benefits, Planning and Mitigation Activities for Homeland Security Incidents

The primary goal of pre-incident waste management planning is to prepare a community to effectively manage waste, debris and materials generated by a homeland security incident, including reducing the potential amount of waste generated at the outset. Communities can follow EPA’s comprehensive Pre-incident All-Hazards Four Step Waste Management (WM) Planning Process or, if resources and time are limited, focus on one or more pre-incident planning activity at a time.

Benefits of Pre-incident Waste Management Planning

Nearly all incidents generate waste, debris and materials. While the amount of waste varies between incidents, the generated waste is often greater than the amount of waste many communities handle each year. Additionally, homeland security incidents may generate waste streams, such as chemical, biological and radiological-contaminated wastes, which typically are not handled by communities or waste management facilities. In addition to helping the whole community prepare for these potential wastes, pre-incident planning encompasses source reduction and hazard mitigation activities aimed at reducing the total amount of waste generated by an incident, especially for a large-scale natural disaster. While this pre-incident planning should be documented in a Waste Management Plan (WMP), the community’s preparation provides the most benefits, such as:

  • Saves valuable time and resources during an incident
  • Allows more efficient and effective waste management decision-making during an incident
  • Encourages stakeholders (e.g., state, local, tribal and territorial governments; owners of private storage, treatment and disposal facilities; residents) to work together before an incident occurs
  • Boosts the community’s resiliency, resulting in a quicker and less costly recovery to its pre-incident state
  • Enhances communities’ adaptation to the waste-related impacts of climate change
  • Minimally detracts from, or otherwise impacts, the broader response and recovery efforts due to the efficient implementation of waste management activities

Planning with Limited Time and Resources

Pre-incident planning can be done in stages. Below is a list of waste management planning activities that may provide the greatest benefit for a community that has limited resources and time to devote to planning. Small but significant steps taken prior to an incident can have a big impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of post-incident waste management decision-making.

For example, few facilities are able to accept radio logical-contaminated waste. Knowing where radio logical-contaminated waste can be taken EXIT and if it will be accepted by the facility before a radio logical incident occurs means that the site can be cleaned up faster (e.g., contaminated waste immediately can begin to be transported off-site to a permitted facility), limiting the possible spread of contamination (e.g., minimizes opportunities for radiation to spread into the surrounding environment due to weather and other factors). Even if a radio logical incident is unlikely to occur in a particular community, planning for radio logical contaminated waste has value beyond radio logical incidents. For example, a large-scale natural disaster may damage hospitals and generate mixed waste (i.e., waste containing both radioactive and hazardous waste components) that would need to be managed at an appropriate facility. Further ideas on planning activities can be found in the Pre-incident All-Hazards Four Step Waste Management (WM) Planning Process section.

  1. Consult with interested stakeholders
    • Which people in your community have information or resources related to various waste management-related activities? (e.g., transportation, sanitation, emergency response, environmental health, public health, public works, zoning, key industry and business leaders)
    • What is each stakeholder’s role and/or authority to act during an incident? (e.g., issue emergency declarations, issue permit waivers)
  2. Identify potential waste streams
    • What are the possible waste streams that an incident may generate in your community, considering the industrial, agricultural, residential and commercial aspects of the community?
    • Do any federal or local laws or regulations apply to the potential waste streams?
    • How much waste is expected to be generated by each waste stream EXIT, in relative terms?
    • Can the amount of potentially generated waste be reduced by means of source reduction (e.g., updating building codes for resilient building design and construction) or hazard mitigation (e.g., eliminating potential problematic wastes, such as retrofitting PCB transformers to reduce PCB-contaminated wastes) activities?
  3. Evaluate the reuse and recycling program
    • What reuse and recycling options (e.g., recycling facilities, end markets for reused and recycled products) currently are available to your community within and/or across jurisdictional lines?
    • Can the existing reuse and recycling program be scaled up to handle disaster-related wastes?
    • Does your community have green building programs, local waste management ordinances and/or building code requirements that encourage the creation and help maintain a robust reuse and recycling infrastructure?
  4. Consider waste collection strategies
    • How may the waste be separated into different waste streams before being removed from the site of the incident?
    • Can the volume of the waste be reduced?
    • How may the waste be collected and transported off-site after an incident?
  5. Determine locations or criteria for waste management sites
    • What locations are suitable for waste staging, storage and decontamination activities?
    • Are contracts pre-negotiated for those sites?
    • What criteria should be used for selecting appropriate sites for different waste streams, if locations cannot be pre-determined?
  6. Select potential waste management facilities
    • What reuse, composting, recycling, treatment and disposal options currently are available in your community, state or region EXIT?
    • Which waste streams may each waste management facility accept?
    • How much of each waste stream can each facility receive?
    • Under what conditions, if at all, will specific facilities accept the waste?
    • Are contracts pre-negotiated with these facilities, as well as with neighboring communities?
  7. Create a waste management-focused community outreach plan
    • How may your community be informed of waste management-related information, including the transportation and management of incident-related wastes in or near the community?
    • What are the most effective methods of notifying your community about the risks that each waste stream may present to human health and the environment?
    • Which people or groups in your community can help you spread important information?
    • What are possible ways to increase public understanding and acceptance of decontaminated wastes, reused materials and recycled products made from incident-related wastes?
  8. Address health and safety considerations for waste management operations
    • What are the risks associated with the potential waste streams and the use of decontamination technologies?
    • Do emergency personnel have appropriate training regarding waste handling and management?
    • Is personal protective equipment (PPE) available should an incident occur?

Inter relatedness of Pre-incident Waste Management Activities

Flow chart showing the interrelatedness of pre-incident waste management activities

Pre-incident All-Hazards Waste Management Planning Process

EPA’s pre-incident waste management planning process is designed to help communities prepare for an incident’s waste management needs, regardless of the hazard. This recommended process guides emergency managers and planners through four steps that cover the initiation, creation, updating and implementation of a waste management plan. The waste management planning process does not have to be completed at one time or by one person.

This is the 4 step process for planning the waste management process


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