Waste Management Protocol for Your Business During Disaster Recovery

Yazoo City, MS, April 29, 2010 -- This building was totally destroyed by the deadly tornado of April 24, 2010. George Armstrong/FEMA

Yazoo City, MS, April 29, 2010 – George Armstrong / FEMA

Natural Disaster Waste Management

When you think of “natural disasters” you don’t immediately think of “waste management”. But natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires can produce hundreds of tons of debris in a short period of time, disrupting the day-to-day waste removal process in affected communities. After a natural disaster hits, the first priority is restoring public health and safety as well as keeping communication open to the public. Businesses and franchise owners have a big responsibility to contribute to the economic recovery post-natural disaster — the faster they can get their businesses up and running again, the better equipped the community is to recover as quickly as possible.

Aside from being an inconvenience for businesses and residents, problems with waste recovery during a disaster can lead to environmental and public health issues, which also prevents the community’s ability to rebuild as soon as possible. And as a business owner, you don’t want to prolong the economic recovery process because your waste collection has stalled.

The damage and amount of waste and debris generated depends on how populated the area is. Larger cities affected by a natural disaster will generate more waste than smaller communities. Disaster waste management is also costly because of the amount of labor it takes to remove all the debris, along with disposal costs for local landfills.

While you can’t control when natural disasters will strike, you can control how prepared your business is for those disasters. From hurricanes pounding the coasts, to tornadoes affecting the Midwest region, businesses need a formal disaster preparedness and recovery plan.

Planning Ahead

Removing debris as quickly as possible while ensuring environmental and public protection is challenging, but this process can be made easier if your business develops a preparedness plan. A step-by-step process for sufficient debris removal includes:

  • Collection of debris
  • Determining the contents in the debris
  • Evaluating potential hazards and toxins
  • Sorting and separating the debris
  • Recycling all possible debris
  • Disposing the residual waste

It’s also important to note that keeping accurate records and well-developed plans is a crucial aspect of waste management planning, as well as a list of available nearby landfills, recycling centers and storage infrastructures with sufficient space. In the event of not having a sufficient amount of space for waste, there are often temporary storage areas to relieve debris. Some temporary storage areas may consist of vacant lots, parking lots, existing large-scale industrial storage buildings or any space designated by your city.

On top of developing a plan for your business, it’s important to be aware of what your city’s disaster preparedness plan is. Open communication with employees about both plans is a key step to ensuring maximum efficiency if a disaster affects your community.

Business, Health and Safety Risks 

Natural disasters can cause sewage in public roads and various materials of debris everywhere, which leads to toxins in the air. All of these can be harmful to both the environment and the public, so when disposing of them you need to handle with care. An added benefit of temporary storage facilities is they can minimize potential health risks and environmental contamination. Specific issues of concern for the public could include:

  • Air pollution from toxic airborne particles
  • Contaminated water runoff from hazardous components of materials
  • Leaching from stored materials
  • Seepage from the contaminated runoff and leakage into surface and subsurface water and soil
  • Non-secured public access

Dealing with Disaster Waste Management

Following a disaster, waste removal can be a time consuming process because of poor road conditions, a sudden large volume of waste and a lack of capacity to dispose the waste. The key to getting through any disaster as efficiently as possible is good public communication. The public can be very easily frustrated following a disaster, so it’s important to be open and transparent when informing them about the stages of recovery. If the slow removal process is affecting your business, communicate with your waste management company to ensure they are doing everything they can. Remember, this is a long and stressful process for the entire community.

Waste Management Disaster Preparation Checklist

A waste management disaster preparation checklist is a key part of your business disaster plan to ensure environmental and public safety. If a natural disaster affects your community, it’s not only important to have open communication with the public, but with employees so everyone can achieve their goal of efficiently removing the waste. Below is an example of a waste management disaster preparation checklist your business can follow so you can address all the basic concerns before a disaster affects your community:

  • Become familiar with federal debris removal criteria and guidelines: Support your management and provide necessary resources. Next, determine the type and scope of debris removal and diversion programs to be established during the recovery phase.
  • Develop removal strategy: For maximum efficiency, prioritize the debris removal operation into two phases.
    • Phase 1 – roadway debris removal for emergency vehicles
    • Phase 2 – public right-of-way debris removal

Depending on the industry or location of your business, one phase could be a higher priority than the other. Coordinate removal of debris by developing an initial assessment of the disaster, communicate with your waste removal company about your need of waste removal and evaluate any damaged utility systems or buildings.

  • Evaluate disaster situation and select debris management program(s):
    • Set program goals – determine the recycling rate in the area, your facility needs, landfill space and enforcing illegal dumping regulations to your employees
    • Define labor needs – predict the staffing requirements for removing the debris and enter into mutual aid agreements before the disaster
    • Identify equipment needs – compile a list of equipment needed to support the waste removal
    • Define method of operation and timeline – determine who is implementing the program, how the materials will be collected, where your business is located on the route and how long the entire removal process will require to complete
    • Look into funding options – Research any local or private funds that can be used to start the removal process until your business has received FEMA reimbursement
  • Communicate your plan: Your management company and necessary clients should be aware of your waste removal plan in the event of a disaster so they know what their resources are for acting out the plan.
  • Implement the plan: Put into action the specific steps for removing the debris in a timely manner.
  • Develop a contingency plan: In the event your local landfill or recycling center is at full capacity, know where the nearby temporary storage locations are or make arrangements with neighboring counties, if applicable, to use their facilities. Be aware of the timeline for FEMA reimbursements and make an agreement with a waste management company ahead of time to remove any excessive waste after a disaster.
  • Set up a tracking system for debris removal program: Verify payments to waste facilities and document recycling rates for your records. Some of these records may be beneficial if the city or state requests them following the disaster.
  • Develop a training program for employees: Write removal guidelines for employees involved in the process and educate your waste management provider with any special instructions of your business’ waste removal needs.
  • Create a final report: It’s important to prepare a final report because one might be required for FEMA reimbursement, plus it allows jurisdiction to evaluate the success and areas of improvement for the removal program. This is also a helpful process to develop any future disaster preparedness plans.

Following a natural disaster, the first priority is ensuring the public’s safety and keeping communication open. Businesses actually play a big role in this process because their waste management efficiency after a natural disaster affects the economic recovery for the community. A reputable waste management company should work with vendors nationwide to resume service as quickly as possible and to provide resources from outside the affected community should local infrastructure be damaged, destroyed or inaccessible. Securing the proper resources, partners and planning today makes tomorrow’s potential disasters less daunting.

Download our waste management disaster preparation checklist as a great resource for your business to address all basic concerns before a disaster affects your community.