The recent hurricanes, wildfires, and floods are harsh reminders that disasters do not wait.
At the MPCA, the Emergency Management (EMU) Unit is responsible for organizing the MPCA's efforts to prepare for and respond to emergencies where there is a risk of harm to the environment. And a lot goes into making sure we are ready to respond to emergencies — whether those emergencies are spills, natural disasters, or unpermitted releases of pollutants.
A tremendous amount of petroleum is transported through Minnesota via rail, pipeline, truck, and ships each day. “Those of us in emergency response know that it isn’t a matter of if a spill might occur, but when and where,” said Dorene Fier-Tucker, EMU Supervisor. So this summer, staffers joined the U.S. Coast Guard, the city of Duluth, Calumet Superior, LLC, and a host of other partners for a spill drill exercise on Minnesota’s North Shore.
Because spills and other disasters don’t follow strict boundaries, cross-agency collaboration at all levels is especially important. During the August spill drill, over 100 participants came together to simulate an emergency in which there was a release of oil from a ship coming into Lake Superior. Businesses who transport hazardous materials such as petroleum, ethanol, or related materials are required to plan and prepare for spills, and these types of exercises are useful practice. Additionally, government agencies with response roles benefit from these mock incidents. Honing their skills, implementing procedures, and coordinating with other partners helps improve our response as well. When everyone comes together and practices, we all learn, we all improve, and in the end the environment benefits.
Many MPCA programs plan, prepare, and train for emergencies that could occur. Recently, our solid waste staff trained on how to operate a transfer station to collect and manage disaster debris. Local government may need assistance after a flash flood or tornado, and MPCA staff are ready. Staffers from all parts of the agency may be called upon to help respond to emergencies. This is true for MPCA’s communication staff, too. “When emergencies happen, people need good information. That can be tough when dealing with so many moving parts. Our work is as much putting out good information as it is combating rumors and misinformation,” said Dan Olson, one of MPCA’s Public Information Officers.
On-call Emergency Management staff triage and respond to over 3,000 spills each year in Minnesota — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The team carries out internal and external spill prevention and preparedness activities through proactive community planning, fire department training, exercises and drills, and enforcement. Check out what you can do to stay aware below.
What you can do
Here are five quick things you can do to be prepared:
- Report uncontrolled spills or releases and fish kills by contacting the 24-hour Minnesota Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 or 651-649-5451
- Properly manage all chemicals and properly dispose of them. Sometimes a small spill can create a lot of damage.
- Talk with your family and create a plan for emergencies with resources from Ready.gov.
- Sign up for Air Quality Alerts and follow the National Weather Service for forecasts and warnings.
- Get involved by joining a Community Emergency Response Team to help your community stay. Find a team near you.
Check out the Emergency Response Program’s webpage for industry preparedness requirements and response resources.