Environmental Security: A Homeland Issue, Part 2

Part One of this two part series (click on Archives, located in the bar on the left-hand side of this page, and search for "Environmental Security: A Homeland Issue," April 2003) focused on two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) homeland security strategies of critical infrastructure protection and communication and information. In Part Two, we will discuss the other two strategies, which are preparedness, response and recovery and protection of EPA personnel and infrastructure.

Preparedness, Response and Recovery
Personally, this subject has been forefront with my firm and myself for over the last 15 years. Participation in local emergency planning committees (LEPC) and chairing conferences on this subject also helps give me a good foundation on preparedness, response and recovery. However, with the changing landscape surrounding this issue, a new level needs to be obtained.

Goal Number One: EPA plans to focus on strengthening and broadening its response capabilities, clarifying its roles and responsibilities to ensure an effective response and promoting improved response capabilities across government and industries in the area in which EPA has unique knowledge and expertise. Among the goals in this area are the development, dissemination and exercising of new and improved tools and techniques for responding to chemical, biological and radiological incidents.

One of the major goals by EPA will be to be prepared to respond and recover from any terrorist attack anywhere in the country. That goal is followed by a series of other goals that will require substantial change to the way we operate in the country today.

Goal Number Two: EPA communicates, with federal, state and local agencies about the agency's roles, responsibilities, authorities, capabilities and inter-dependencies under all applicable emergency plans consistent with the National Strategy for Homeland Security and efforts taken by the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agency will also make an effort to understand the roles, responsibilities, authorities, capabilities and inter-dependencies of its partners. As a tactic to this goal, EPA will make every effort to avoid any unnecessary duplication of efforts by using its position as chair of the 16-agency National Response Team.

Goal Number Three: EPA will support and develop the preparedness of state, local and tribunal governments and private industry to respond to, recover from and continue operations after a terrorist attack.

The first response of a terrorist attack usually takes place at the local level. Key players on the local level involve the LEPC, state emergency response coordinator's (SERC) and the state radiation control programs. Beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2003, at least 30 key cities/counties per year will be trained to know how EPA and other federal response capabilities fit with their local incident command systems for terrorist response, so that 100 key cities/counties are trained by the end of FY 2005.

Goal Number Four: EPA will advance the state of knowledge in the area relevant to homeland security to provide responders and decision makers with tools and the scientific and technical understanding they need to manage existing or potential threats to homeland security.

One of the ways that EPA will advance its knowledge is to undertake research, development, testing and communication/implementation of enhanced methods for detection and containment of biological and chemical warfare agents and bulk industrial chemicals intentionally introduced into large buildings/structures. Additionally, the agency will focus on decontamination of building surfaces, furnishings and equipment, with safe disposal of residual materials.

Further illustrating some of the county and city roles in development is the function performed by these entities related to forwarding information to citizens and leaders in an area when terrorist levels change. Gary Tilton, deputy emergency management coordinator for Fort Bend County, Texas, recently released a text on the topic of increasing a terrorist alert to Level Orange. The text contained information on operation Liberty Shield, increased public health preparedness, greater protections for critical infrastructure and key assets, stronger transportation protections and information about a new Web site that provides educators and school administrators with key emergency preparedness measures. You can access further information on these items at the ready.gov Web site or at 1-800-be-ready. You can access the education Web site at www.ed.gov/emergencyplan.

Protection of EPA Personnel and Infrastructure
EPA, by the fact that it is the chair for the 16 agency National Response Team, must make sure that the protection of its own employees and its infrastructure are in proper order. To facilitate that process they have put into place a set of goals that will serve as guidelines. Those goals are:

  • EPA will safeguard its employees;
  • EPA will ensure the continuation of the agency's essential functions and operations;
  • EPA will maintain a secure technology infrastructure capable of supporting laboratory data transport and analysis functions, nonstop telecommunications to all EPA locations and management of critical agency data and information; and
  • EPA will ensure that the agency's physical structures and assets are secure and operational.

One of the methods being utilized to safeguard employees is the maintenance of an occupant emergency plan (OEP). Employees will be safely evacuated from a facility in the event of an emergency or will be kept safe until they can be safely evacuated. There will be continual annual drills, initial training on implementing OEPs for the command center team and refresher training.

Another goal is to ensure the continuation of the agency's essential functions and operations. The main ways to accomplish this task are the continuity of operational plans (COOP). EPA will need to enhance access to critical records and databases and improve communications with field offices in order to support this effort.

Continuity of functions, in the event of an emergency or threat, can be demonstrated by the following exercises.

  • Updating planning documents;
  • Preparing an alternated facility;
  • Establishing capacity to communicate, coordinate operations and access requisite records and databases from the alternate facility; and
  • Conducting regular training activities and exercises.

Other strategies include the following:

  • EPA will begin to deploy the competencies management and training management modules of HR Pro (December 2003).
  • EPA will procure and deploy the PeopleSoft workforce analysis module (December 2004).
  • EPA will provide a "hot" site for critical agency data as a part of their third goal. The site will have redundant telecommunications capability and will support an emergency response center with necessary information technology infrastructure to ensure data and voice communication throughout at all times.
  • EPA will analyze and align technical capabilities to meet expectations and strategic goals.
  • EPA will support an emergency response center with needed information technology infrastructure.
  • Vulnerability assessments will be conducted at all EPA facilities and take collective action to improve the security at its physical structures. This measure coincides with goal number four in the total process.
  • The agency will have the equipment it needs, where and when it needs it, and technical assets will be adequately protected, accessible and functioning.
  • There will be two standardized methods in FY 2003 and three methods in FY 2004.

In conclusion, I feel it is accurate to say that the direction of environmental security, as it pertains to homeland security is very much on the right track to address any terrorist attack. Although there is a great deal more to do, it is obvious that EPA has been working at a record pace to meet the needs since September 11, 2001.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.

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