Your secret weapon in emergency management: EMAC

Dan Jensen
Government Affairs Manager
APWA Washington Office

It's that time of the year again. The leaves are changing color, people are reflecting on their progress as the year draws to a close, and for those of you in Southern California, the temperature dipping into the ice-cold 60s brings with it a stark reminder that winter is coming! The days of autumn are upon us—that time in which we prepare for the harsh months ahead. These are the days when we move from national hurricane preparation to local ice storm preparation.

While we all know that disasters—big and small—can happen at any time and without warning, autumn is generally seen as a small break from the hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and droughts of the summer, leaving us a small window of opportunity to take stock of our weapons in the fight against disasters. And in keeping in tune with this month's theme, it is a time for winter maintenance on those weapons—preparedness plans and disaster recovery options.

In the months following Hurricane Katrina, it was discovered that many communities (even those in disaster-prone areas) were unaware of a large, national program that was designed to help them literally "weather the storm." It is perhaps one of the greatest tools available in emergency management, and is called the Emergency Management Assistant Compact, or EMAC.

EMAC is a mutual aid agreement and partnership between states designed to help them protect against and recover from a wide variety of catastrophes. Examples include hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, toxic waste spills, terrorist attacks, biological and chemical incidents and countless other unnamed calamities. The need for such a system is apparent since all states share a common enemy: the threat of disaster.

Since being ratified by Congress and signed into law in 1996 (Public Law 104-321), all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have enacted legislation to become members of EMAC. EMAC is the first national disaster-relief compact since the Civil Defense and Disaster Compact of 1950 to be ratified by Congress.

The strength of EMAC and the quality that distinguishes it from other plans and compacts lies in its governance structure, its relationship with federal organizations, states, counties, territories, regions and the ability to move just about any resource from one state to assist another state, including medical resources.

EMAC offers the following benefits:

  • EMAC allows for a quick response to disasters using the unique human resources and expertise possessed by member states.

  • EMAC offers state-to-state assistance during governor-declared state of emergencies: EMAC offers a responsive and straightforward system for states to send personnel and equipment to help disaster relief efforts in other states. When resources are overwhelmed, EMAC helps to fill the shortfalls.

  • The EMAC legislation solves the problems of liability and responsibilities of cost and allows for credentials to be honored across state lines. EMAC establishes a firm legal foundation: Once the conditions for providing assistance to a requesting state have been set, the terms constitute a legally binding contractual agreement that make affected states responsible for reimbursement. Responding states can rest assured that sending aid will not be a financial or legal burden and personnel sent are protected under workers' compensation and liability provisions.

  • EMAC allows states to ask for whatever assistance they need for any type of emergency, from earthquakes to acts of terrorism. EMAC's simple procedures help states dispense with bureaucratic wrangling.

  • EMAC can move resources other compacts can't—like medical resources.
As was the case with most national emergency response plans, the fundamentals and efficiency of EMAC have been thoroughly reviewed since Hurricane Katrina left much of the Gulf Coast devastated. While the magnitude of the disaster was overwhelming at times, putting an unprecedented strain on EMAC, the overall deployment of resources through the system was a success. In fact, the biggest problem facing EMAC was not in its implementation, but rather in the simple reality that most localities were not aware of its existence!

EMAC, as a result of such findings, has taken steps to increase its profile both nationally and on the local level. One recent step has been the creation of an "EMAC Advisory Board," to which an APWA member has been appointed to serve. This presents APWA with new opportunities to directly communicate the unique needs of public works as they relate to the implementation of this mutual aid system. Additionally, the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), which is tasked with managing EMAC, will be taking steps to increase education among localities—beginning with small communities in disaster-prone areas that often lack the native resources to cope with large-scale disasters. APWA will be coordinating education efforts in conjunction with NEMA in this regard.

EMAC is but one tool in the arsenal available to emergency responders. Public works officials stand to greatly benefit from such a system, as long as their communities know what is available to them in case of emergency. Use this break before winter to familiarize yourself, your team and department with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Consider it a worthwhile part of your yearly winter maintenance efforts! To learn more about EMAC, how to participate and what is being done to improve the compact, please visit www.emacweb.org.

If you would like to get more involved with EMAC, or would simply like more information, please feel free to contact Dan Jensen at djensen@apwa.net.

APWA encourages lawmakers to amend language in water security bill

Becky Wickstrom
Manager of Media Affairs
APWA Washington Office

Proposed legislation in Congress could cause unintended risks to public health and the environmental protection of the nation's water supply and wastewater treatment facilities. APWA member expert Bruce Florquist, a public works professional with more than 40 years working with water, water resources, water law and water/wastewater management, discussed the implications of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act (HR 5695/S 2145) during a congressional staff briefing on August 22.

APWA member Bruce Florquist discussed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act and its potential risk to water systems during a congressional staff briefing in August.

The proposed bills would require water and wastewater facilities to comply with already-established Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines in addition to new guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As written, the bill would result in an unfunded mandate to local governments who are already stretched thin financially and would allow DHS the discretion to make a new water security program mandatory.

"Unfunded mandates associated with this bill could impact the operation of water and wastewater systems and add a level of review not necessary for systems security," said Florquist. "APWA is encouraging lawmakers to include specific language in the bills exempting drinking water and wastewater system security and include direction for DHS to work with EPA to avoid duplicative, overlapping and conflicting guidance."

Florquist outlined the components of a water system, including potential vulnerabilities, and discussed the extensive training and certification process for plant operators.

"Only a certified operator can allow entry into a plant," he said. "If emergency management professionals have responsibility over water systems, how do we know they are trained to operate the plant? Plant operators regard public health as their number one priority."

APWA Congressional Briefings are one part of an awareness campaign to provide congressional staff with information about the role and needs of public works and infrastructure in local communities. APWA member experts brief staff members about issues ranging from transportation funding to emergency preparedness and clean water.

Becky Wickstrom can be reached at (202) 218-6736 or bwickstrom@apwa.net.