Hazardous materials are transported, stored, and used in manufacturing throughout the United States, and local fire departments face environmental and industrial dangers like never before. Federal, state, and local regulations provide guidance to our industrial partners on the usage of hazardous materials. Industrial partners are encouraged to be active in their Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC). LEPCs were established to carry out the requirements of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA, also known as the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act – SARA Title III) and related regulations for emergency response planning. EPCRA helps to provide notification and access to information on chemicals being transported, at industrial facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment.
In the City of Corpus Christi, Texas, the Nueces County Judge appoints the Corpus Christi Fire Chief as Chairperson of the LEPC. The chairperson has a full-time LEPC Coordinator, and all LEPC activity is channeled through the fire department. The Corpus Christi Fire Department's unique relationship with the LEPC creates an organizational structure with a Commander/Coordinator working through an Executive Committee and four subcommittees to build relationships with governmental, industrial, and residential partners.
The four subcommittees, which meet bi-monthly, include:
- First Responder/Communications – Brings together local and industrial fire department leadership to review emergency plans, identify hazardous in the community, and conduct tabletop and full-scale exercises. This committee builds relations and trust between the first responders.
- Risk Awareness – Focuses on communication to the community through outreach programs, commercial messaging, printed materials, providing shelter-in-place kits for schools and at-risk facilities. This committee oversees the usage of our emergency notification system and is adaptive to an all-hazards approach.
- Pipeline – Brings together industrial pipeline operators and excavators to discuss pipeline damage prevention, safety measures, and industry regulations. This group hosts an annual safe digging seminar for 300+ excavators.
- Finance – Industrial partners and governmental entities support the LEPC through contributions based on their Tier II inventories and associated risk. This committee oversees and ensures the financial stability of the LEPC.
Because the LEPC is organized under the Corpus Christi Fire Department, it provides a variety of important benefits to the community. This includes:
- Credibility as an organization between governmental entities, industrial partners and our citizens
- Builds on the relationship between the Fire Chief, LEPC Coordinator, and industry leadership
- Standardization of training for first responders to specific industrial hazards
- Incorporates information regarding all methods of transport of hazardous materials via highway, rail, pipeline, and maritime waterways
- Conducts periodic community commodity flow studies
- LEPC can access funding for training and resources to firefighters
- Share information about emergency plans and equipment for specific industry facilities
- Create a safer work environment for first responders
- Brings together emergency managers from the city, the county, the Port of Corpus Christi, and the local military industrial complex
- Establish mutual aid agreements with adjoining LEPCs
As fire chiefs, our primary responsibility is the safety of our first responders and residents. By having the local LEPC embedded in the Corpus Christi Fire Department, this relationship has created a means where hazardous material information located in our community, emergency response plans, and resources are shared between first responders.
Robert Rocha is Fire Chief of the Corpus Christi (Texas) Fire Department and serves as the chairperson of Nueces County/City of Corpus Christi Local Emergency Planning Committee.