Description of Initiative:
In September 2012, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) developed an Environmental Emergency Response Program after identifying the need to enhance the District’s ability to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies. For years, DDOE responded to environmental emergencies by sending inspectors that were available to respond to the emergency situation at the time. Since the response was primarily based on inspector availability, inspectors were often constrained as to what could be done and addressed. Emergency requests were also received by different administrations within DDOE, with no clear procedure on how requests should be handled. Given these inefficiencies, the agency recognized the need for an overarching program that could address environmental emergencies in a more effective and methodical manner.
Since the implementation of the Environmental Emergency Response Program, a number of key issues have been addressed. First, the program developed a system to handle pollution complaints through a triage process. The system involves an assessment of the complaints received via numerous electronic and telephone sources, noting which could be resolved quickly or required assignment of a particular priority level.
Second, the program enhanced the working relationship with District First Responders by increasing joint multi-agency investigations of environmental crimes. When an environmental complaint is received, the program alerts key members within DDOE, Fire and Emergency Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the Department of Public Works to help ensure proper emergency response, investigation, and remediation. This process improved hazardous materials response capabilities for the District government as a whole.
Third, the program created a seven-person Emergency Response Team that serves as the District’s “state” hazardous materials team to support existing hazardous materials response resources from city and federal agencies and provides an environmental health component to the city’s hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction response capabilities. This seven-person team consists of DDOE staff members from the Air Quality, Water Quality, and Toxic Substance Divisions.
Finally, in addition to environmental emergency response, the program provides support for emergency preparedness, planning, and training for a wide variety of disasters for the District.
Results to Date:
Since implementation of the program, DDOE’s Environmental Emergency Response had responded as of this past June to a total of 271 emergencies including oil spills, chemical leaks, and homeland security events (prior to this program, there was no mechanism in place to track such emergencies). As the program became more established, DDOE applied for and successfully secured grant funding and donations of equipment to outfit environmental emergency responders. In addition, DDOE has acquired an emergency vehicle and trailer to respond to environmental emergencies in an efficient manner.
The success of this program has been recognized by both U.S. EPA and the United States Coast Guard for its enhanced response capabilities and activities. A prime example of the program’s success is the ability to quickly respond to and control a 3,000 gallon oil spill from reaching environmentally sensitive areas of the Anacostia River. In addition, because of the procedures put in place, the program was able to ensure proper control of a petroleum substance from entering the drinking water of a District neighborhood.
In order to protect the people and environment of the District of Columbia, DDOE has adopted a Program that is “mission-ready” for environmental emergencies at all times. When prevention measures fail, or people commit crimes against the environment, DDOE’s program and environmental services – in partnership with key emergency responders across the District and federal government – help ensure that a prompt and professional response is deployed to protect the people and environment of the District.
Chief, Emergency Operations
District Department of the Environment