In 1986, Congress passed The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (42 U.S.C. 11011 et seq. (1986)), requiring each state to set up a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Among the SERC's duties are to establish Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) across the state.
LEPCs provide a mechanism for citizens, local governments and industry to work together to plan for chemical accidents, and to reduce risk to the public from releases of toxic chemicals into the environment.
By law, LEPCs must consist of representatives from all of the following sectors: elected state and local officials; law enforcement; emergency management; firefighting; first aid; health; local environmental and transportation agencies; hospitals; broadcast and print media; community groups; and representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning and community right-to-know requirements.
The LEPC's initial task is to develop an emergency plan for preparing for and responding to chemical emergencies. The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990 includes national planning and preparedness provisions for oil spills that are similar to EPCRA provisions for extremely hazardous substances. Plans are developed at the local, State and Federal levels. The OPA plans offer an opportunity for LEPCs to coordinate their plans with area and facility oil spill plans covering the same geographical area.
LEPC emergency plans must include:
- the identity and location of hazardous materials;
- procedures for immediate response to a chemical accident;
- ways to notify the public about actions they must take;
- names of coordinators at plants; and
- schedules and plans for testing the plan.
LEPCs must publicize the emergency plan through public meetings or newspaper announcements, take public comment, and periodically test the plan by conducting emergency drills. The LEPC must also update the plan at least annually and let the public know of its activities.
In addition to emergency plan development, LEPCs also receive emergency release and hazardous chemical inventory information submitted by local facilities, and must make that information available to the public upon request. They have authority to request additional information from facilities for their own planning purposes or on behalf of others, and LEPCs can take civil action against facilities if they fail to provide the information required under the EPCRA.
Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness is a booklet written by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It addresses all aspects of individual, family, and community preparedness for a wide variety of potential emergencies, including hazardous materials incidents.