Each year, members of the MPCA's Emergency Management Unit (EMU) triage approximately 3,000 calls. From chemical fires, train derailments and pipeline breaks to tanker truck accidents, mercury spills, wastewater bypasses and tornadoes, these incidents all need a swift, effective response. Some incidents can be handled over the phone, some necessitate one or more trips to a spill site, others require years of followup.
The men and women of the MPCA's EMU play a key role in protecting the public and the environment from such threats, ready at a moment's notice to respond to a crisis. A member of the unit is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
The EMU has two primary goals:
- to work with responsible parties and cleanup contractors to make sure spills are contained and cleaned up properly, and
- to assist local governments and businesses in preparing for environmental spills and emergencies
Most Minnesotans have heard about abandoned containers of hazardous waste or truck accidents that have spilled hundreds or thousands of gallons of oil across a highway. But the EMU is also called upon for other incidents: unit members advises on handling and disposal of debris due to tornadoes and floods, mass animal deaths from disease and even terrorism acts.
It doesn't have to be a dangerous chemical to cause environmental harm. The EMU team has dealt with almost anything that can be spilled — molasses, milk, sulfuric acid, sugar, paint, manure, ethanol, mercury and asphalt.
Preventing emergencies and spills
The Emergency Management Unit isn't only about response. One of the more important roles each EMU staff member plays is as an advisor or trainer. EMU staff provide spill response training to fire departments and participate in training businesses conduct or attend. The unit has provided equipment and trained many fire departments in oil spill response. EMU staff review companies' spill response plans, assessing each a company’s preparedness, including response capability, prevention strategies, training and sensitive area protection.
Role of the Minnesota Duty Officer
Not sure if it's really an environmental emergency?
The Minnesota Duty Officer provides a 24-7, one-call contact point for reporting an incident and requesting assistance. When an incident is reported, the Minnesota Duty Officer notifies the appropriate state agencies.
Depending on the nature of the incident, those agencies might include the MPCA; Departments of Agriculture, Health or Transportation; the State Fire Marshal; the Office of Pipeline Safety; the State Patrol; and the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The Duty Officer also handles requests for state chemical assessment teams, search-and-rescue teams, bomb squads, Civil Air Patrol and the National Guard.
If you spill petroleum or other hazardous material or see such a spill, report it immediately to the Minnesota Duty Officer (phone 651-649-5451 or 800-422-0798).