Mitigating the Risks of Hazardous Materials During Fall Hurricane Season

While facility managers in these regions are familiar with the preparation required to minimize property damage in severe storms, it’s also important to have a strategy in place for handling hazardous materials. Good hurricane preparedness means having an emergency response plan, taking steps to secure waste to avoid displacement, and deploying post-storm damage control if necessary.

T.J. McCaustland, Permit Compliance Manager

July 11, 2024

4 Min Read
NASA Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its outlook for the 2024 hurricane season, predicting an 85% chance of an above-normal season. Because Atlantic hurricane season spans from June through the end of November, facilities located in regions vulnerable to these storms must be prepared for unpredictable weather for half the year. The NOAA predictions forecast 4-7 named category 3, 4, or 5 hurricanes, further emphasizing the necessity of proactivity, especially for facilities that handle hazardous substances.  

While facility managers in these regions are familiar with the preparation required to minimize property damage in severe storms, it’s also important to have a strategy in place for handling hazardous materials. Good hurricane preparedness means having an emergency response plan, taking steps to secure waste to avoid displacement, and deploying post-storm damage control if necessary. 

Prepare and activate an emergency response plan 

Many businesses and facilities fail to take proactive steps and wait until after a hurricane has made landfall to take action. An emergency response plan helps to initiate necessary conversations and assign accountability to the right people. A good emergency response plan identifies key decision makers in the event of a hurricane, establishes a clear chain of command, determines the individuals responsible for hazardous waste management, and identifies parties who will assist in waste removal. Making these decisions ahead of time minimizes confusion, which can lead to costly mistakes.  

Emergency response plans help to ensure regulatory compliance, determine if the facility or business needs to engage further professional assistance, and can provide clarity in a high-pressure situation. Once a facility has an emergency response plan in place, it’s crucial that all employees familiarize themselves with it. 

When activating an emergency response plan, it’s important to also review and document the facility’s hazardous waste inventory, so the information is on-hand to report following the storm. This inventory might include waste that hasn’t yet been disposed of or hazardous items that are used in the facility’s day-to-day operations. When taking stock, be sure to make detailed notes of the types and quantities of waste as well as how and where it is stored. These detailed notes will be important to have if the storm causes the displacement of any of these materials. 

Secure hazardous waste to avoid displacement 

Powerful hurricanes, tropical storms, and other natural disasters may displace hazardous waste stored at a facility. This poses safety risks to people, animals, and the environment. Displaced hazardous waste also puts companies at risk of non-compliance with hazardous waste regulations, which can be costly. 

Steps to securing hazardous waste properly can vary based on the facility. A general rule of thumb is to ensure that all materials are sealed in containers in a secure location. When determining a secure location for hazardous materials, consider the potential risks associated with a hurricane, like flooding, high winds, and power outages. If any parts of the facility are particularly prone to flooding, consider keeping hazardous materials in elevated containers. 

Any moving or rolling stock should be placed in higher ground areas, and any loose containers, stock, or machinery that is outside should be relocated indoors or securely fastened. Other outdoor structures such as trailers should be properly anchored or moved to higher ground if possible. If there is time in advance, determine if inventory can be shipped to a location outside of the hurricane zone. 

It’s also important to consider how stored hazardous materials might react with one another if spilled. Be sure to store highly reactive materials in separate, secure locations to minimize the risk of reactions. Place spill kits in each location where hazardous materials are stored. Rely on resources from regulatory agencies, like the Department of Transportation or the Environmental Protection Agency, for guidance on how to store materials compliantly.  

Post-storm damage control 

Once the storm has passed, evaluate your need for professional assistance, such as spill containment or hazardous waste handling. Proactively establishing a partnership with a trusted waste management service provider before disaster strikes can offer peace of mind in stressful and unpredictable situations during hurricane season and beyond. Waste management experts can assist with the planning, preparation, and clean-up associated with natural disasters to keep businesses safe and compliant.  

Hurricane season can elevate a facility’s risk of displaced waste. Mitigating the risks of hazardous waste is a facility’s obligation to their customers, community, and the environment.  

TJ McCaustland has been with Clean Earth for 27 years. He is the Permitting Compliance Manager on the Environmental Health & Safety Team. He has extensive experience in the industry and possesses particular knowledge regarding emergency response. 

 

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SafetyThought Leadership

About the Author(s)

T.J. McCaustland

Permit Compliance Manager, Clean Earth

TJ McCaustland has been with Clean Earth for 27 years. He is the Permitting Compliance Manager on the Environmental Health & Safety Team. He has extensive experience in the industry and possesses particular knowledge regarding emergency response. 

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