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PT Notes

EPA RMP Rule Amendments - Emergency Response Preparedness

PT Notes is a series of topical technical notes on process safety provided periodically by Primatech for your benefit. Please feel free to provide feedback.

This PT Note describes amendments to EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP) regulation relating to emergency response preparedness.


Applicability

Under the Applicability paragraph of the rule, EPA has introduced the headings, “Responding stationary source”’ and “Non-responding stationary source”’ as an indication of whether or not a facility is required to comply with the emergency response program provisions of the rule.

EPA agrees that there is a wide spectrum of planning, preparedness, and response arrangements available to facilities and local communities, and the two categories of responding and non-responding facilities do not fully capture this continuum. Also, EPA acknowledges that there is some overlap between the obligations of responding and non-responding facilities. For example, both responding and non-responding facilities must have mechanisms or procedures in place to notify emergency responders about accidental releases, and both types of sources must coordinate emergency response activities with local responders (and under the amended rule, these coordination activities must occur annually and be documented, as described later). The outcome of coordination activities may result in different types of response arrangements involving regulated facilities and communities, Consequently, EPA understands that a facility’s designation as responding or non-responding does not, by itself, explain all facets of emergency preparedness and response for the facility. However, EPA believes that these designations are still useful because responding facilities must meet certain requirements that non-responding facilities are not required to meet.

Responding facilities must comply with all of the provisions of an emergency response program, which include developing an emergency response plan; developing procedures for the use, inspection, and testing of emergency response equipment; conducting training for employees in relevant procedures; and updating the emergency response plan to reflect changes at the source. Any facility that plans to use its employees to take response actions beyond those specified in its emergency action plan as a result of an accidental release at the source, which could include, for example, donning emergency air breathing apparatus in order to enter an area where a toxic gas leak has occurred with the intention of stopping or controlling the release, would be expected to have obtained appropriate equipment and training and to address these activities in its emergency response program, even if the facility is also relying on local responders to supplement its own response, or to manage offsite response actions such as evacuations and sheltering-in-place. Therefore, EPA has used the terms “responding stationary source” and “non-responding stationary source” as an indication of whether or not a facility is required to comply with the emergency response program provisions of the rule.

EPA also is adding requirements that the owner or operator of a responding stationary source must perform emergency response coordination activities and emergency response exercises as specified in the amended rule. A non-responding stationary source must comply with emergency response coordination activities and emergency notification exercises as specified in the amended rule in order to avoid compliance with the requirements for an emergency response program.


Emergency Response Coordination Activities

The amended rule adds a requirement for the owner or operator of a stationary source to coordinate response needs with local emergency planning and response organizations to determine how the stationary source is addressed in the community emergency response plan and to ensure that local response organizations are aware of the regulated substances at the stationary source, their quantities, the risks presented by covered processes, and the resources and capabilities at the stationary source to respond to an accidental release of a regulated substance.

EPA understands some communities do not have functional local emergency planning committees (LEPCs), but has accounted for this possibility by requiring coordination to be with “local emergency planning and response organizations”. This term is intended to encompass all manner of local public emergency planning and response organizations. In many cases this will be the LEPC, but in other cases it may be a local emergency management agency, a local fire department, or another local response organization (or, if appropriate, multiple organizations). These non-LEPC planning entities can use this provision to obtain necessary planning information even when they lack the authority granted to LEPCs under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Regardless of whether or not their community has an active LEPC, EPA expects owners and operators of regulated sources to make good faith efforts to carry out the coordination activities required in the amended rule. If local emergency planning and response organizations decline to participate in coordination activities, or the owner or operator cannot identify any appropriate local emergency planning and response organization with which to coordinate, the owner or operator should document their coordination efforts, and continue to attempt to perform coordination activities at least annually.

Coordination must occur at least annually, and more frequently if necessary, to address changes at the stationary source, in the stationary source’s emergency response and/or emergency action plan, and/or in the community emergency response plan.

EPA believes most sources are located close enough to local responders to make annual coordination activities practical. Where necessary, owners and operators and local authorities may conduct coordination activities remotely (e.g., using conference calls, webinars, email, etc.). Sources and local response organizations may choose to coordinate more frequently than annually, but EPA believes annual emergency coordination between regulated sources and local responders is necessary to the development and maintenance of effective response plans.

Coordination must include providing to the local emergency planning and response organizations with the stationary source’s emergency response plan if one exists, emergency action plan, updated emergency contact information, and any other information that local emergency planning and response organizations identify as relevant to local emergency response planning. Most of the documents that the owner or operator must provide to local authorities are either already required to exist (i.e., emergency response plan and emergency action plan).

EPA noted that emergency action plans must be kept in writing, unless an employer has 10 or fewer employees, in which case they may communicate the plan orally to employees. Under the amended RMP rule, if the owner or operator has a written emergency action plan, that written plan should be provided to local authorities, but if the plan is an oral plan, the owner or operator may also communicate the plan orally to local authorities.

In requiring “any other information that local emergency planning and response organizations identify as relevant to local emergency planning,” EPA is encouraging local emergency officials to consider what other facility information may aid them in preparing for emergencies at the source beyond the specific elements identified, and request such information from the owner or operator when conducting annual coordination activities. Such information could include accident histories, portions of incident investigation or compliance audit reports relevant to emergency response, incident after-action reports, records of notification exercises, field and tabletop exercise evaluation reports, or other information relevant to community emergency planning. For example, this may include requesting information on changes made to the facility that affect risk, such as incorporating safer alternatives. The owner or operator is required to provide any information requested by local emergency planning and response organizations, to the extent the information is relevant to local emergency planning. Any assertions of Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information status can be addressed on a case-by-case basis by the stationary source, the LEPC, the Department of Homeland Security, and other appropriate entities.

For responding stationary sources, coordination also must include consulting with local emergency response officials to establish appropriate schedules and plans for field and tabletop exercises required under the amended rule. The owner or operator must request an opportunity to meet with the LEPC, or equivalent, and/or local fire department, as appropriate, to review and discuss these materials.

The purpose of the coordination meeting is to allow the owner or operator to update and discuss the information being provided to local authorities, and to allow local authorities to provide the owner or operator with updated information on how the source is addressed in the community emergency response plan. The meeting also will provide an opportunity for local authorities to request any other information that may be relevant to local emergency planning, and for the owner or operator to provide this information. In most cases, EPA believes the most efficient way for the owner or operator to provide such information is not only to discuss it during the coordination meeting, but also to provide appropriate documentation.

In the amended rule, EPA has worded the meeting requirement only to require the owner or operator to request such a meeting, so that the owner or operator would not be required to hold a meeting if local authorities are unable or unwilling to participate. The forum for coordination meetings is left up to the reasonable judgement of the owner or operator and local response authorities. They may choose to hold a meeting specifically for this purpose, or combine the coordination meeting with another appropriate meeting, such as a regularly scheduled LEPC meeting, if both parties agree to the arrangement. Where necessary, owners and operators and local authorities may hold meetings remotely (e.g., via conference call or webinar).

The emergency response exercise provisions of the amended rule contain a requirement for the owner or operator of a responding stationary source to consult with local emergency response officials, as part of their emergency response coordination activities, to establish appropriate frequencies and plans for tabletop and field exercises. This provision was added because of the potentially high burden associated with conducting field and tabletop exercises.

EPA understands there may be cases where local emergency response agencies are unable or unwilling to coordinate with a regulated stationary source on exercise frequencies and plans, or to participate in exercises. In such cases, the owner or operator may establish appropriate exercise frequencies and plans on their own, provided they meet the minimum requirements set forth in the amended rule. Also, the owner or operator should revisit their exercise schedules and plans at the next annual coordination opportunity with local response officials, so that these officials are given an opportunity for input on exercise schedules and plans, even if they remain unable to participate in the exercises.

The owner or operator also must document coordination with local authorities, including the names of individuals involved and their contact information (phone number, email address, and organizational affiliations), dates of coordination activities, and nature of coordination activities. EPA views these documentation requirements as straightforward and minimally burdensome. EPA believes that if response to an emergency goes badly, documentation of prior coordination is more likely to clarify deficiencies than obscure or exacerbate them.

The amended rule does not specifically require the owner or operator to seek acknowledgement of coordination efforts from local responders. The owner or operator may seek such acknowledgement if desired, but local authorities are not required to provide it. EPA believes the required documentation elements should clearly demonstrate whether local responders were involved in coordination, without requiring any other specific acknowledgement from local responders. EPA believes the owner or operator should document any unsuccessful attempts to coordinate with local response organizations. The amended rule does not specifically require the owner or operator to document unsuccessful coordination attempts, but EPA believes it will be in the owner or operator’s best interest to do so, and allows the owner or operator to demonstrate their good faith efforts to conduct coordination activities in the event an implementing agency requests this information.

Where regulated sources are already subject to other Federal or state emergency response coordination requirements comparable to those in the amended rule, compliance with those regulations may be used to demonstrate compliance with the rule, to the extent the activities meet the specific requirements of the rule.

Similarly, facilities that already carry out coordination activities voluntarily may use them to demonstrate compliance with the amended rule to the extent the activities meet the specific requirements of the rule.

EPA is aware that increasing the obligations of regulated facilities for emergency response coordination will often place increased demands on local emergency planning and response organizations through increased coordination requests made by the owners or operators of regulated sources located in their communities. EPA views this situation as an unavoidable consequence of increasing the owner’s or operator’s emergency response coordination obligations. However, EPA intends that the amended rule’s emergency response coordination requirements be a straightforward information exchange for both regulated sources and local response organizations. Therefore, they should not be highly burdensome for either party. Also, the regulatory requirements for coordination have been placed on the owner or operator, rather than local emergency planning and response organizations. Therefore, local response organizations are not obligated to participate in the coordination activities specified in the amended rule. However, EPA expects that local responders will participate in these coordination activities in most cases because it is in their best interest to have up-to-date information about the risks posed by regulated stationary sources in their community and the emergency response plans of sources.

EPA believes there is a wide range of potential outcomes from emergency response coordination activities, but the primary purpose of such coordination should be the regular sharing of information between the owner or operator and local response authorities. Both the owner or operator and local responders should benefit from this exchange by becoming more aware of each organization’s response capabilities, resources, and procedures. Based on these increased coordination activities, EPA believes that both regulated sources and local response organizations will be better able to adapt their response plans and procedures to updated information.

EPA believes that this information exchange also could prompt some facilities to enhance their existing response capabilities, and even to develop a full emergency response program where none previously existed. Conversely, such increased coordination could result in local authorities, in consultation with an owner or operator, deciding that local public responders are better positioned to respond to releases of regulated substances at the source than the facility itself.

Additionally, EPA believes that coordination could lead to development of mutual aid agreements with neighboring facilities, arrangements with response contractors, or other means to improve community and/or facility response plans, procedures, and resources. Such measures could enhance both the community’s and facility’s ability to respond effectively to emergencies without necessarily requiring a facility to maintain its own hazardous materials response team and/or fire brigade, unless the owner or operator, after coordinating with local authorities, decides that is the most effective approach.


Emergency Response Program

The amended rule requires that release notification procedures now include Federal and state emergency response agencies, in addition to public and local emergency response agencies.

Also, the amended rule requires the owner or operator to review and update the emergency response plan, as appropriate, based on changes at the stationary source or new information obtained from coordination activities, emergency response exercises, incident investigations, or other available information.

The requirement to ensure employees are informed of any changes to the emergency response plan is retained from the existing rule.

EPA agrees that the owner or operator should not be held responsible for updating the facility emergency response plan to reflect changes in the local community emergency response plan if local response officials do not provide the necessary information. However, EPA is not requiring local authorities to provide a complete copy of the local community emergency plan to the owner or operator. Local authorities may provide it if they choose, and in some cases the community emergency response plan may be publicly available information. However, the local community emergency response plan also may contain a significant amount of information that is not relevant to the owner or operator, so local response authorities may prefer to provide only the information from the community emergency response plan that relates to the stationary source.

Emergency Response Exercises

The amended rule requires responding stationary sources to develop and implement an emergency response exercise program that includes notification, tabletop and field exercises.

Owners or operators are required to establish a schedule for exercises in coordination with local officials, with minimum time frames prescribed in the rule. Exercises must involve facility emergency response personnel and, as appropriate, emergency response contractors. When planning emergency response field and tabletop exercises, the owner or operator must coordinate with local public emergency response officials and invite them to participate in the exercise.

Notification Exercises

The owner or operator of a stationary source with any Program 2 or Program 3 process must conduct an exercise of the stationary source’s emergency response notification mechanisms required under the rule at least once each calendar year. Owners or operators of responding stationary sources may perform the notification exercise as part of the required tabletop and field exercises. The owner/operator must maintain a written record of each notification exercise conducted over the last five years.

EPA noted that emergency contact information provided in Risk Management Plans frequently changes, particularly when facilities go several years between plan updates. For this reason, EPA modified the Risk Management Plan submission requirements in 2004 to require that emergency contact information provided in plans be corrected within one month of any change in that information.

While EPA believes it would be beneficial for the owner or operator to update their emergency contact information and confirm the functionality of notification systems whenever relevant changes occur, in some cases changes that affect emergency contact information and notification systems may be infrequent, and result in facility personnel and local responders becoming unfamiliar with stationary source emergency notification procedures. EPA believes a requirement for annual notification exercises will ensure that emergency contact information and notification systems remain relatively current, and also provide regular training for facility personnel and local responders.

EPA believes that requiring annual testing of notification systems should prevent situations where emergency notification systems are only found to be ineffective when they are most needed. Short of actually using the emergency notification system during an accidental release, EPA believes that performing a test of the facility’s emergency notification system is the most practical way to evaluate whether or not the system is functional.

EPA expects the notification exercise will involve testing of on-site notification equipment and procedures, including contacting each entity listed on the facility’s notification list to verify the contact information and identify that the facility is conducting a notification exercise.

EPA encourages owners and operators to work with local authorities to perform joint comprehensive testing of facility and community notification systems, where possible, and to provide updated information to local communities on evacuation and sheltering procedures. In some cases, regulated facilities provide direct notification to nearby residents and other members of the community when an accident has occurred. These notifications may include audible and/or visual alarms and sirens, reverse 911 calling systems, or other direct notification systems. Where such systems are in place, annual notification exercises should include tests of those systems during the exercise. In either case, EPA recommends that regulated sources and communities work together after conducting notification exercises to evaluate the effectiveness of notification, evacuation, and sheltering systems and procedures, and make improvements to those systems and procedures, as appropriate, based on lessons learned during exercises.

Emergency Response Exercise Program

The owner or operator of a stationary source subject to the requirements of an emergency response program must develop and implement an exercise program for its emergency response program. Exercises must involve facility emergency response personnel and, as appropriate, emergency response contractors. When planning emergency response field and tabletop exercises, the owner or operator must coordinate with local public emergency response officials and invite them to participate in the exercise.

The emergency response exercise program must include:

  • Emergency response field exercises. The owner or operator must conduct field exercises involving the simulated accidental release of a regulated substance (i.e., toxic substance release or release of a regulated flammable substance involving a fire and/or explosion).
    • Frequency. As part of the required coordination with local emergency response officials, the owner or operator must consult with these officials to establish an appropriate frequency for field exercises, but at a minimum, must conduct a field exercise at least once every ten years.
    • Scope. Field exercises must include:
      • Tests of procedures to notify the public and the appropriate Federal, state, and local emergency response agencies about an accidental release.
      • Tests of procedures and measures for emergency response actions including evacuations and medical treatment.
      • Tests of communications systems.
      • Mobilization of facility emergency response personnel, including contractors, as appropriate.
      • Coordination with local emergency responders.
      • Emergency response equipment deployment.
      • Any other action identified in the emergency response program, as appropriate.
  • Tabletop exercises. The owner or operator must conduct a tabletop exercise involving the simulated accidental release of a regulated substance. Tabletop exercises are discussion-based exercises without the actual deployment of response equipment. During tabletop exercises, responders typically assemble in a meeting location and simulate procedural and communications steps for response to a simulated accidental release, as determined by the scenario and the source’s emergency response plan.
    • Frequency. As part of the required coordination with local emergency response officials, the owner or operator must consult with these officials to establish an appropriate frequency for tabletop exercises, but at a minimum, must conduct a tabletop exercise at least once every three years.
    • Scope. Tabletop exercises must include discussions of:
      • Procedures to notify the public and the appropriate Federal, state, and local emergency response agencies.
      • Procedures and measures for emergency response including evacuations and medical treatment.
      • Identification of facility emergency response personnel and/or contractors and their responsibilities.
      • Coordination with local emergency responders.
      • Procedures for emergency response equipment deployment.
      • Any other action identified in the emergency response plan, as appropriate.
  • Documentation. The owner/ operator must prepare an evaluation report within 90 days of each exercise. The report must include:
    • A description of the exercise scenario.
    • Names and organizations of each participant.
    • An evaluation of the exercise results, including lessons learned.
    • Recommendations for improvement or revisions to the emergency response exercise program and emergency response program.
    • A schedule to promptly address and resolve recommendations.

In some cases, exercises may occur infrequently, and EPA believes that maintaining a written record including, among other things, the identification and affiliation of exercise participants will be useful in planning future exercises.

EPA views exercises as an important component of an emergency response program for responding stationary sources, because it allows these sources to implement their emergency response plans, test their actual response procedures and capabilities, identify potential shortfalls, and take corrective action. EPA also believes both field and tabletop exercises will provide essential training for facility personnel and local responders in responding to accidental releases, and will ultimately mitigate the effects of such releases at RMP facilities.

EPA stated that the time frames established in the amended rule are minimum expectations and owners and operators are encouraged to establish appropriate schedules for exercises, in consultation with local officials, considering factors such as hazards, organizations (including facility personnel training needs and personnel turnover), budgets, resource demands, regulations, or other factors. EPA set the frequency for tabletop exercises to be more frequent than field exercises because tabletop exercises require less time and fewer resources to plan and conduct than field exercises.

Owners or operators and local responders may account for whatever factors they deem appropriate when establishing an exercise frequency that works for both organizations. Owners or operators and local authorities may also adjust exercise frequencies as needed to account for changes in hazards, organizations, budgets, resource demands, regulations, or other factors, provided that field exercises occur at least every ten years, and tabletop exercises occur at least every three years.

EPA recommends that owners and operators and local response organizations take contingencies into account when establishing exercise schedules, so there is still time to complete the field or tabletop exercise within the allotted time frame in the event the exercise must be postponed.

EPA noted that some RMP facilities may be subject to a more frequent schedule for exercises under other regulations (e.g., state or local). In such cases, the owner or operator should comply with the more stringent exercise frequency requirement. By doing so, they will ensure that they also meet the required exercise frequency for the RMP exercise requirements.

In many cases, EPA expects that exercise planning can be included as part of the required annual emergency response coordination meetings. In other cases, the owner or operator and local responders may choose to hold separate exercise planning meetings.

EPA understands that in some cases local responders may elect to limit their participation in exercise coordination activities because of limitations on their available time and resources. However, if the owner or operator is unable to identify a local emergency response organization with which to coordinate field and tabletop exercise schedules and plans and participate in exercises, or the appropriate local response organizations are unable or unwilling to participate in these activities, then the owner or operator may unilaterally establish appropriate exercise frequencies and plans, and, if necessary, hold exercises without the participation of local responders. In these cases, the owner or operator must still ensure that field exercises occur at least every ten years, and tabletop exercises occur at least every three years. Additionally, the owner or operator should continue to make ongoing efforts to locate appropriate local public response officials for purposes of emergency response and exercise coordination and participation.

EPA believes that involving local response officials in selecting exercise frequencies and in planning exercises should ensure that RMP facility exercises are consonant with the needs and resources of regulated facilities and local communities. By involving local public responders in the exercise scenario itself, responders may also be able to test or simulate important offsite emergency response actions that are usually managed by local public emergency response officials, such as community notification, public evacuations, and sheltering in place, and EPA encourages sources and local response officials to design exercise scenarios where these functions are also tested.

Responding stationary sources that rely on response contractors to perform emergency response functions during accidental releases should also ensure that response contractors participate in field and tabletop exercises.

In preparing the required exercise evaluation report, the owner or operator should evaluate all aspects of the exercise, including, to the extent possible, any offsite aspects of the exercise such as community notification, evacuation, and sheltering in place. In many cases, this will require the owner or operator to involve local response officials in the exercise evaluation.

EPA encourages owners and operators of neighboring RMP facilities to consider planning and conducting joint exercises. However, sources that participate in joint exercises must ensure that their participation meets all of the provisions of the amended rule. RMP facilities participating in mutual aid agreements with other nearby facilities already coordinate response actions and resources with those facilities, and EPA believes conducting joint exercises among these facilities will more accurately simulate their behavior in the event of an actual release event, and further enhance the ability of these facilities and surrounding communities to effectively respond to accidental releases.

Even where such mutual aid agreements are not currently in place, EPA believes the owners and operators of neighboring regulated facilities should consider whether joint facility exercises may have benefits for participating facilities, local responders, and surrounding communities. Such benefits could include improved identification and sharing of response resources, enhanced training for facility personnel and local responders, improvements in facility procedures and practices resulting from information sharing, and others. In areas where multiple RMP facilities are located close together, joint exercises could also reduce the overall burden of exercises on local response organizations, who might otherwise be asked to participate in multiple separate exercises.

Alternative Means of Meeting Exercise Requirements

The owner or operator may satisfy the requirement to conduct notification, field and/or tabletop exercises through:

  • Exercises conducted to meet other Federal, state or local exercise requirements, provided the exercises meet the requirements of the amended rule.
  • Response to an accidental release, provided the response includes the actions indicated in the amended rule.

When used to meet field and/or tabletop exercise requirements, the owner or operator must prepare an after-action report comparable to (and in lieu of) the exercise evaluation report of the documentation requirements, within 90 days of the incident. This provision is necessary because documenting the response to an accidental release may differ from documenting the results of an exercise. For example, instead of documenting the ‘‘exercise scenario,’’ the owner or operator would document the nature of the accidental release prompting the response. Also, there may be additional aspects of the response to an accidental release that should be documented, such as any injuries, first aid and/or medical treatment that occurred. To the extent possible, the owner or operator should ensure that additional items such as these are documented in the after-action report, as well as information equivalent or comparable to that documented in an exercise evaluation report.


The final rule can be found at:

40 CFR Part 68, Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act, Final Rule

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