Chemical and Biological Defense:

Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program for Oregon and Washington

NSIAD-00-13: Published: Oct 26, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 29, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) for the Oregon and Washington communities surrounding the Umatilla Chemical Depot, focusing on: (1) the progress communities have made since GAO's 1997 report on their CSEPP efforts; and (2) strategies for enhancing the program's implementation in Oregon.

GAO noted that: (1) since GAO's report on their preparedness in 1997, the Oregon and Washington communities surrounding the Umatilla Chemical Depot have made progress in preparing for a possible chemical weapons stockpile emergency; (2) several additional preparedness equipment items and other program elements are now fully or partially in place; (3) Oregon now has a working siren warning system to notify people outdoors if an accident occurs; (4) Oregon community officials have also installed over-pressurization systems in the 11 schools most likely to be affected if chemical agents are released into the atmosphere; (5) Washington also has added elements, such as a fully operational integrated communications system that would allow state, county, and local CSEPP participants to communicate during an emergency; (6) as a result of this progress, Oregon and Washington's ability to meet a chemical stockpile emergency has improved; (7) however, some critical equipment items were still not in place in either state, including: (a) tone alert radios, which are intended to notify residents while indoors of an accident and to instruct them on the measures they need to take to protect themselves; and (b) shelter-in-place kits, which residents could use to seal up a room to keep chemical agents out; (8) planning is an extremely critical element for effective program management and Oregon's program planning needs improvement; (9) the program in Oregon lacks an overall plan that: (a) defines missions, roles, outcomes, and performance measures; and (b) includes input from all the key stakeholders, such as local, county, and state emergency response personnel; (10) the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considered Washington's plans to be excellent and the Army and FEMA considered Utah's program the most advanced; (11) although these programs are not directly comparable to Oregon's because these states have far fewer people close to chemical weapons stockpiles and less complex programs, both have detailed, coordinated, and integrated response plans that have helped emergency responders prepare to meet a chemical emergency; (12) moreover, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 offers a results-oriented management framework, including setting performance goals and specifying the strategies and resources to be used in achieving goals, that Oregon could apply in its program planning; and (13) following such a framework could help emergency responders be better prepared in the event of a chemical accident and prevent or minimize the recurrence of coordination problems.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA established the Greater Umatilla Community Chemical Stockpile emergency Preparedness (CSEPP) Governing Board comprised of representatives of the state, counties, municipalities, first response agencies and the general public whose responsibility it was to prepare, coordinate, integrate and approve an overall emergency response plan to be used in the event of a chemical agent release at the Umatilla Chemical Depot. The plan is based on eight different chemical agent accident scenarios or "base" cases that provide details such as the roles and responsibilities of the the incident commander, safety and information officers and the unified operations group. The Board finalized, approved, and signed the plan on January 10, 2001. This plan meets the intent of the recommendation, and we consider action on this recommendation to be completed.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should work closely with Oregon state CSEPP officials, Umatilla and Morrow County officials, and local community officials to apply results-oriented management principles in the development of an overall implementation plan. This plan should: (1) identify and clarify the roles and responsibilities of all the state and local government organizations having a stake in implementing the CSEPP; and (2) identify program requirements and actions that must be taken to fully prepare for a chemical stockpile emergency, the organization(s) responsible for taking each action, (including any technical or other assistance required and who will provide it), and the specific amounts and sources of funding or other resources that are needed and that are available for implementing each action.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

 

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