This Underutilized Group Could Save Your Business in a Crisis

Disaster team discussion circle
Over 30 years ago, Union Carbide, a U.S.-owned pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked 40-plus tons of a poisonous gas into the surrounding region, killing at least 3,800 people in their sleep and producing deleterious environmental effects. The incident — the worst industrial accident in history — led to the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986.

As part of this act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) to help local communities improve their ability to respond to chemical emergencies. LEPCs require facilities to submit inventories of hazardous chemicals and develop emergency response plans in collaboration with local law enforcement, city officials and members of the media. Throughout the U.S., there are more than 3,000 LEPCs for each of the designated local emergency planning districts, which are determined by city or county boundaries.

Even if your business doesn’t deal with hazardous materials, though, don’t write off LEPCs as a valuable resource for your crisis response efforts. Here are three reasons to join your local LEPC.

LEPCs Aren’t Just for Chemical Plants Anymore

Although LEPCs were initially created to help reduce risks associated with toxic chemicals, many LEPCs are taking an all-hazards approach and addressing scenarios such as active shooter incidents. Involving local first responders in drills benefits both sides by opening the lines of communication, clarifying each party’s roles and ironing out wrinkles in the response strategy.

For example, one financial services company had a local SWAT team participate in an active shooter scenario involving over 60 victims. During the drill, the shooter took 15 employees as hostages and barricaded himself in a room. The organization has three individuals trained in hostage negotiations, so the drill gave these staff members the opportunity to practice their skills. Throughout the exercise, the SWAT team sat side by side with the negotiators and trained them.

The organization also worked with the police force’s IT team to link the station’s video cameras to the business’s system so live video could be broadcast to a command center. This integration allows the police force to assess events in real time when necessary. There are also plans to look into feeding video into the responding patrol cars so the police know what to expect as soon as they arrive on a scene.

Working in conjunction with local law enforcement to prepare for an emergency will not only improve your business’s crisis response plan, but it'll also help first responders do their jobs better since they’ll be familiar with your facility and plan.

Engaging the Community Builds Reputation Currency

When a crisis impacts your company, it’s critical to gain control of how your employees, customers, community, investors and regulators perceive the situation. To do so, it’s important to have an established reputation and demonstrate that you prioritize your community’s well-being. Joining your local LEPC is a visible way for your company to both gain reputation benefits and help the community.

Through attending LEPC meetings, you create critical relationships with first responders and even members of the media. If an event affects your facility, LEPC members will gladly state that your company was actively participating in the group to better the community and can provide letters of reference when auditors come calling. Good press at a bad time is crucial to protecting your reputation during a crisis.

But joining an LEPC doesn’t — and shouldn’t — benefit your company alone. In College Station, TX, where our headquarters is located, one of our staff members participates in the Brazos County LEPC. Thanks to the efforts of individuals representing several companies, the group recently received a $100,000 grant to purchase special firefighting equipment.

Getting involved in your local LEPC will expose you to countless opportunities for corporate social responsibility initiatives. The EPA, in fact, encourages community outreach by “empowering volunteers to create meaningful tasks,” such as providing local schools and nursing facilities with educational materials about emergency preparedness topics. LEPCs are intended to include not only first responders but also representatives from a range of demographics, organizations and community groups, so networking within LEPCs helps you develop an in-depth understanding of your community’s needs.

LEPCs Foster Public-Private Collaboration

For years, public and private entities have lamented the lack of collaboration when it comes to emergency preparedness. LEPCs pave the way for cross-sector partnerships. To develop a relationship with local first responders and the city officials, encourage your staff members to participate in LEPC meetings and public-sector exercises. When involving first responders in your own drills, prioritize making the event mutually beneficial by offering first responders the opportunity to practice processes and procedures of their own. The aforementioned financial services organization, for example, tested its local police department’s new inventory system.

Unfortunately, many LEPCs are now dormant or nonexistent. They work independently and are loosely connected through the EPA region liaisons, meaning the activity level and quality of each varies greatly. Because they don’t get the press they should, they tend to stay below the radar. We would like to see that change.

To jumpstart your crisis response strategy and improve your reputation, take advantage of these resources:
Taking the time to participate in a local LEPC will take time and commitment, but the long-term benefits to your business and the community where you live and work will be well worth the effort.

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