Monday, May 2, 2016

RMP NPRM: Emergency Response Exercises

This is part of a continuing series of blog posts about the EPA’s recently published notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for revisions of their Risk Management Program. Earlier posts in this series include:

Background – Emergency Response Exercises

The current RMP rules do not include any requirements for the conduct of emergency response exercises. The preamble to this NPRM notes that the original RMP NPRM (58 FR 54190, 10-20-93; not available on-line) did include such a requirement, but that it was dropped from the final rule. The preamble notes two reasons for that removal:

“First, the Agency decided to limit the emergency response program requirements to the minimum requirements contained in CAA section 112(r)(7) in order to avoid inconsistency with other emergency response planning regulations. Second, the Agency indicated that the additional requirements were already addressed in other Federal regulations and therefore, sources were already doing them.”

The preamble includes a lengthy discussion about the reasons for having an effective exercise program. The EPA then concludes that:

“However, EPA's experience with implementing the RMP rule over nearly two decades, along with incidents such as those described above, indicate that many regulated sources do not regularly conduct emergency exercises that involve local response authorities. The Agency now believes that adding this provision to the regulation will likely reduce the severity of some accidents that do occur.”

Exercise Requirement

The NPRM would add a new 40 CFR 68.96 outlining the exercise requirements for Program 2 and Program 3 facilities. Two general types of exercises are addressed; notification exercises and emergency response exercises. Both responding and non-responding facilities would be required to conduct notification exercises; while only responding facilities would be required to conduct the emergency response exercises.

Notification Exercises

Section 68.96(a) would require all Program 2 and Program 3 facilities to conduct an annual notification exercise. The notification exercise “would include contacting the Federal, Tribal, state, and local public emergency response authorities, and other external responders that would respond to accidental releases at the source”. Responding facilities would be able to include their notification exercise in their emergency response exercise.

Notification exercises would be documented and those records would be required to be maintained for five years. Those records would be submitted to local officials {§68.205(b)(6)} and be made available to the public {§68.210(b)(5)}.

Emergency Response Exercises

The NPRM would require responding facilities to conduct two different types of emergency response exercises: table top exercises and field exercises. Table top exercises would be conducted every year (except years when a field exercise is conducted) and field exercises would be conducted every five years.

Facilities would be “required to coordinate with local public emergency response officials in planning and conducting exercises, and invite local officials to participate in exercises”. The participation of local officials would not be required for a successful emergency response exercise.

Table Top Exercises

A table top exercises are defined as “discussion-based exercises without the actual deployment of response equipment”. A table top exercise would include:

• Procedures for informing the public and the appropriate Federal, state, and local emergency response agencies about an accidental release;
• Procedures and measures for emergency response after an accidental release of a regulated substance including evacuations and medical treatment;
• Identification of facility emergency response personnel and responsibilities;
• Coordination with local emergency responders;
• Procedures for the use of emergency response equipment, and other actions identified in the source's emergency response plan, as appropriate.

Field Exercise

A field exercise is an emergency response exercise that actually includes the deployment of emergency response equipment in accordance with the emergency response plan. They would be required every five years and within one year of a covered chemical release incident. A field exercise would include:

• Procedures for informing the public and the appropriate Federal, state, and local emergency response agencies about an accidental release;
• Procedures and measures for emergency response after an accidental release of a regulated substance including evacuations and medical treatment;
• Communications systems;
• Mobilization of facility emergency response personnel;
• Coordination with local emergency responders;
• Equipment deployment, and
• Other actions identified in the source's emergency response plan, as appropriate.


There is an old military adage that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Things happen that the planners did not foresee or consider in their planning process. Assumptions made by the planners do not actually pan out in a real world application. And, of course, the biggest problem is that actual responses include thousands of tiny details that can never make it into a plan. This is the reason for conducting exercises.

Having spent 15 years in the US Army and over 20 years in the chemical industry, I have taken part in a number of exercises, good and bad. I have also responded to real world incidents in both arenas. I will be the first to tell you that no real world incident has ever followed an exercise scenario. On the other hand, incidents where the response had been exercised (no matter how badly) always went more smoothly with fewer unanticipated disruptions.

There are three major shortcomings to the exercise program included in this NPRM. The first is inevitable due to congressional concerns with unfunded mandates placed upon State and local governments. Any notification exercise initiated by a covered facility should include at the very least a written response by the notified local emergency response agencies to the facility about what actions would have taken place if the notification had been an actual emergency. The facility could use that information to refine the prior coordination the facility has made with that agency.

The second major shortcoming is that the number and frequency of the exercises is totally inadequate, particularly when a plan is first established. A year between table top exercises provides too much time for the loss of institutional memory and five years between field exercises ignores the changes in equipment and processes that normally take place in most facilities over that time period.

Both of these time period related problems could be resolved if the regulation recognized smaller level intermediate exercises. For example, instead of pulling the entire emergency response team in for a table top exercise, just the supervisory and facility management personnel could conduct a table top exercise that Army used to call an exercise without troops. Likewise, you could have table top exercises for just portions of the emergency response team, like the decon team. This way you could have quarterly table top exercises while minimizing the disruption to the facility operation. The same sort of thing could be done with annual field exercises.

The third major shortcoming is again related to Federal mandates on State and local resources. This new exercise requirement totally ignores those facilities that opt to be listed as non-responding facilities. One just needs to consider the example of the West Fertilizer explosion, an example used throughout this NPRM. That facility was obviously too small to have a full blown internal emergency response plan, so no exercises would have been required for that facility.

At a very minimum there should be a requirement for all non-responding Program 2 and Program 3 facilities to host an on-site annual facility review exercise where representatives from the LEPC, the local fire department and other local emergency response agencies are invited to attend a briefing on the covered processes and the associated off-site consequence analysis (OCA) data followed by a tour of the facility. To encourage participation by local agencies, the facility should be required to include reports on the facility review exercise in the information that they are required to make available to the public under §68.210(b).

Finally, I am disappointed that the NPRM did not address the most basic emergency response exercise; the evacuation or shelter-in-place exercise. This is the industrial equivalent of the old-style school fire drill. There really should be a monthly requirement to conduct (and document) this type of exercise for all RMP covered facilities.

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