As Texas and Florida begin to recover from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma’s onslaughts, the full impacts are being assessed and lessons learned. Besides the dozens of people who lost their lives, the property damage is well into the billions. Particularly hard hit are people’s homes, their biggest investments, in most cases, with no or inadequate flood insurance. In addition, for some time nearly one-third of US refining capacity was affected. At least one chemical plant suffered several explosions, causing a mass evacuation from miles of the plant. There have been several reports of releases from pipelines. This toll certainly points to the importance of preparedness and response to minimize damage in the future when future storms hit. Such efforts need to be a partnership between government and the companies affected to be most effective.
Government needs to give companies guidelines on what level of safety in an emergency is acceptable; what level of protection should be provided to the public and institutions. While many do not like regulations, fair, consistent regulations that defines a level of protection and implemented across the board in a smart way (mainly for at risk areas) makes the most sense. In 2011, the Clean Water Act was amended to require facilities that could release oil or natural gas to prepare and be ready to implement facility response plans in case of an emergency. The system worked, as few discharges of oil products were reported, given the new plans and the advanced warning of Harvey that we had.
Of course, it is impossible to expect no environmentally-sensitive spills occur given the historic rainfall (more rain that had ever fallen in a short period in the whole US). We should remember that this is a long-term process, a learning experience. As plants and pipelines re-open, care should be given to assure that before equipment and processes are re-started that they be inspected for viability (replace, if necessary, damaged parts and equipment, make sure the whole system is working) so there is a smooth re-start of operations (with minimal discharges and emissions) and to fully learn lessons to lessen impacts from future storms.
This is also important for municipalities. While Harvey and Irma represented extreme rainfall and wind events, the question that comes up is whether the municipalities were able to handle the water and winds and can they do so the next time. Stormwater systems need to be re-examined and potentially improved. Escape routes better planned and improved, if necessary, in order for emergency services to continue in the area and for greater resiliency. If necessary, municipalities NOT impacted by Harvey and Irma should take note and ask themselves how they might have fared if storms similar in scope hit them and go back and plan and spend to protect citizens better. The images we all saw of floods and wind damage in Texas and Florida should be enough motivation for all municipalities to review and bolster their emergency planning and services, even if it means spending more money and, yes, raising taxes. Harvey and Irma can represent models against which we plan for.
CCES can assist your company in emergency planning, resiliency, and sustainability. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.