Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Hazard’

Environmental Hazard in Pennsylvania

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
Not Always This Pristine

Not Always This Pristine

In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (John Wiley & Sons Inc., second edition, 2008), I set forth a framework for six disaster categories, including environmental hazards. It is important to understand that environmental hazards need not be Love Canal or Environmental Protection Agency Superfund level events. Even the most banal environmental hazards can disrupt the operations of your small business.  Consider that on Saturday, evacuations were forced in Pennsylvania when a tractor-trailer transporting 33,000 pounds of corrosive hydrofluoric acid overturned. The acid is used for industrial purposes, such as etching glass and making high-octane gasoline, refrigerants, aluminum and light bulbs. Most of the acid in the vehicle was in the form of pressurized gas; inhaling the gas causes respiratory irritation, eye damage and pulmonary swelling. As a precaution, authorities ordered an evacuation of about 5,000 people within a mile radius of the accident in Plainfield Township. A pet-friendly shelter was set up at a local high school and the Red Cross was asked for assistance.  The residents may not be allowed to return to their homes or offices for 24 hours.

I learned of a less dangerous incident that caused even more dislocation in rural Louisiana. I was delivering a “train the trainer” program to the technical counselors of Louisiana’s Small Business Development Centers when one of the staff shared an example of a recent disaster. A truck carrying products from a poultry processing plant overturned, spilling chicken fat across the bridge. The bridge was the sole transportation artery for that community and was closed for several days as civil authorities removed the contaminants. Local small businesses that were not set up for telecommuting on a temporary basis were disrupted for three to four days.

Prepare as best you can for these disruptions. Make sure your employees know that evacuation is not always the response to an environmental hazard. When contaminants are airborne, shelter in place may be the safer option. If you have employees who can telecommute, it is worth investing in a program for working from remote locations. What was unusual about the recent incident in Pennsylvania was that it made the national news. These events are so commonplace that they are not always reported.