Both natural and man-made disasters can quickly create a need for waste management responses in recovery efforts. Ensuring public health and safety is part of solid waste management planning. That is why solid waste managers regularly consider how to properly collect, handle, transport, and dispose of solid waste using safe methods for both employees and residents. Response during and immediately following a disaster can require special considerations. In advance of a disaster, preparing for debris management is a small investment of time that will reduce the response time required and minimize the stress on municipal resources.

Disasters and Debris
Following natural disasters such as hurricanes, ice storms, floods, wildfires and tornadoes, communities are often faced with large volumes of debris that require significant cleanup efforts. Disaster debris often includes the following categories of waste:
• Yard – vegetative waste including downed trees, stumps, limbs, and other debris
• Bulky – carpet, furniture, bedding, and other large items
• Construction and demolition – building materials from downed structures, downed utilities, destroyed roads and other inert wastes
• Hazardous – oils, fuels, pesticides, and other chemicals that require special waste handling
• Electronic – televisions, computers, laptops, and accessories that require special waste handling in many jurisdictions
• Scrap metal – vehicles, metal roofing, appliances, and other recyclable metals

Disasters amplify the need for solid waste management planning as disaster debris management can be extremely costly for communities and create a burden on budgets that are already tight. Planning for emergency debris management can prepare solid waste managers to respond more quickly and safely following a disaster.

Managing Disaster Debris
Debris management begins almost immediately following most disasters. Removing debris, including downed trees, power lines, and structures, will often be crucial to life-saving emergency response efforts. During this early emergency response phase, debris management will focus primarily on the clearance of roadways and access routes for emergency responders. As the immediate emergency response begins to transition into recovery efforts, larger-scale implementation of debris management response will begin. Management of solid waste and debris is a critical function of the recovery period. During this period, solid waste management functions are focused on continuing operations for regular solid waste services, and large-scale debris collection and disposal.

Writing a Debris Management Plan
A debris management plan is a written document that outlines the resources available for debris management in the community and the surrounding geographic area. The document will identify procedures for collection, transport and disposal of solid waste resulting from the incident. The plan should be written to provide detailed information about emergency contacts, established mutual aid agreements, procedures for assessing the scale of response needed, and disposal needs. In addition, it is not uncommon for local solid waste managers to be personally affected by the disaster and unable to provide immediate response and leadership. The author of the plan may not be leading the implementation following an emergency. Therefore, the plan should be written so that even a stranger would be able to pick it up and use it during the disaster recovery phase.

Every debris management plan should include the following sections:

Contacts for local solid waste decision-makers
This section will typically include emergency contact information for the chief elected official(s) of the jurisdiction, the solid waste manager and local emergency management service contacts such as fire, police and medical responders.
Considerations and procedures for assessing the scale of response
Answer questions such as who will conduct the assessment, when will the assessment occur, what will they be looking for during the assessment, and how will the results be communicated to decision-makers.
Regional contacts for the recovery effort
Beyond the local jurisdiction, include the agencies that should be contacted for involvement in the recovery phase. Identify agencies such as regional or state emergency management officials, hazardous materials (hazmat) teams, state regulatory officials, funding agencies and others. Include detailed emergency contact information for these resources.
Local and state regulatory requirements for debris management
Include copies of local and state regulations that outline emergency response requirements, solid waste management rules, required permits and temporary permits, and provisions for exceptions to the rules following a disaster.
Temporary debris management sites
Often, temporary collection sites are needed for the consolidation of waste and preparation for disposal. This section of the plan can outline site selection factors such as: location, accessibility, available space, owner agreements, and stormwater management factors. Locations may be pre-identified according to the factors in site selection. Pre-selected site location and owner contact details should be recorded. A survey of jurisdiction owned properties or properties of neighboring jurisdictions should be included in the planning.
Disposal facilities
A survey of transfer stations, landfills and recyclable materials recovery facilities should be conducted. Details about the location, distance and disposal guidelines for each facility should be included in the plan. Record what types of materials will be accepted at the facility if there are any specific restrictions or disposal requirements for the facility. Record contact information for the facility and be prepared to reach out to each facility at the time of response to verify disposal guidelines and fees.
Disaster Contractors
Many jurisdictions will find it necessary to hire additional contractors to assist with the debris clean up following a large-scale incident. Heavy equipment such as backhoes, grapple trucks, boom trucks, dump trucks and others may need to be hired by contract. Some contractors may be hired to help complete assessment work. It is a best practice to identify qualified contractors in advance of an incident. Contacting them and getting them set up for service contracts through your jurisdiction’s contract/purchasing procedures before you need their assistance will ease the challenges at the time of incident response. Remember, these contractors will be in high demand following an incident. Recording the emergency contact information and pertinent details regarding the services they offer in your debris management plan will save critical response time. Reach out to contractors early after the incident to ask them to be on standby as assessments are being completed. This allows them to prepare for mobilization while you are determining specifically where and when they will be needed.
Responder safety
Managing solid waste operations requires local governments to maintain regular assessment of employee skills and training to safely handle, transport and dispose of solid waste in communities. Following a disaster, solid waste employees often become part of the disaster recovery efforts to restore public health and safety. During the recovery effort, public works employees are often considered essential staff and requested to report as soon as possible. Many will leave their family situations and personal recovery efforts to respond to community recovery. This places additional stress on employees during an already difficult situation.  Jurisdictional leaders need to recognize that added stress and extreme environmental conditions require extra attention to safety during disaster response and recovery.

Use this section of your debris management plan to include regular safety information for staff and record additional safety measures that will be needed according to the disaster situation. Outline procedures for location and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Include important contacts for suppliers of PPE, first aid and medical supplies and other safety equipment. Describe requirements for response teams’ assignments, including a safe number of team members, leadership structure and function.

It is recommended that you include contacts for local emergency response agencies in this section of your plan and other sections where users of the guide may need to find this information.
Funding Debris Disposal
The cost of debris disposal can be an enormous burden for many communities. Financial restraints can impact the recovery process. It is important to consider the financial needs of disaster recovery during the planning process. State and federal regulations will allow for designations of the disaster areas, which will, in turn, provide opportunities for communities to submit a request for emergency funding following an incident. Record state and local emergency contacts that can help you through this process.

Include procedures and processes that will initiate approval for emergency funding. Include procedures for tracking expenses incurred for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and other equipment and disposal costs that may later be eligible for reimbursement. Make note of technical assistance providers, such as those in the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) network, who may be available to assist you with funding identification and application.
Public Outreach Following a Disaster
Last, but certainly not least, is the preparation needed to direct public response during this period of cleanup and recovery. Residents of your jurisdiction will need information about how they can manage the disaster debris following an event. They will need to know what special services will be offered. Will curbside collection be available to them, or will they be required to transport debris to collection sites? If curbside collection is available, what type of staging requirements will be necessary? If debris must be transported personally, what types of debris will be accepted and where? Will the burning of vegetative debris and wood waste be permitted? Many of these decisions can be considered and planned in advance of an incident. Following a disaster, these considerations can be modified according to type and scale of the event response needed.

It will be important to communicate with the public early and often following a disaster event. Use this section of your debris management plan to address these advance considerations, as well as list key contacts and supports for public outreach. Note any jurisdictional social media accounts, who administers them, and emergency contact information for administrators of those accounts. Include local media contacts, names and contact information for all support organizations that may have robust public outreach capacities. If your jurisdiction has an assigned public information officer, be sure to include emergency contact information for that individual.

Don’t forget your updates if and when your community experiences a disaster, the effort and planning that goes into developing a debris management plan will be well worth it. But keep in mind, the initial work of developing this plan is only the first step. Updates to the plan should be made at least annually, and any other time a change in point of contact or staff merits the review.

The plan should be readily accessible, with copies available throughout the jurisdictional offices including the mayor, county judge, public works director, emergency management office, fire, and law enforcement departments. Any time an update is made, all copies should be replaced with updated documents.

It is a best management practice to conduct an annual review of the plan with staff and employees to make them aware of the document and its location and the value of its information. Developing this document will save time, stress, and promote efficiency for your community at a time when all those things are crucially important.

Michelle Viney

Michelle Viney

Communities Unlimited
Area Director of Program Operations