Joining Forces to Advance Resiliency to Complex Disasters

January 19, 2022 | Wayne E. Cascio

Image of adult officemates putting their hands in the middle of a team huddle, team-building cheerIn the face of a worldwide pandemic, an increase in the frequency of destructive wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, and the unsettling specter of homeland security threats related to radiological, biological, and chemical contamination events, it’s easy for public health and environmental officials to feel like the odds are stacked against us.

But we have a powerful tool to level the playing field: partnership.

EPA has joined forces with ASTHO and the Environmental Council on States (ECOS) to harness our collective expertise, leverage shared resources, and collaborate across administrative and geographic boundaries. Together, we are rising to meet the environmental and related public health challenges the nation faces today while increasing our capacity to help communities bounce back from adversity.

Through a memorandum of agreement with the three organizations, we have updated a wildfire smoke guide for public officials, developed risk communication materials for PFAS and harmful algal blooms, and released a COVID in wastewater brief. That’s why I’m so pleased to announce the activity in our partnership with ASTHO and ECOS: a jointly hosted, two-part listening session on resiliency and vulnerability.

Sessions will focus on how state environmental and health agencies can prevent and mitigate environmental pollution and related public health impacts from disaster events, including extreme weather, wildfires, environmental contamination, and chemical spills—especially in the midst of ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery. Building on past success stories, the sessions will emphasize federal-state coordination and collaboration to improve environmental and public health resiliency.

Identifying resiliency—the ability to prepare for, withstand, and successfully recover from disaster—as a topic for the listening sessions is another great example of the success of our partnership. Thanks to the open communication we have established, EPA is now regularly incorporating state needs into our strategic research planning. This helps us continue to deliver the results, tools, and resources that states and communities need most.

In the area of resiliency, EPA scientists are working to identify key links between the environment, related infrastructure such as drinking water and waste storage facilities, large scale disasters, and public health risks and vulnerabilities. The goals are to help reduce those risks, and to make what we learn immediately accessible and applicable to those tasked with protecting public health and mitigating the impacts left in the aftermath of disaster.

One example is the recent release of EPA’s Environmental Resilience Tools Wizard, an online, one-stop-shop of Agency-produced scientific models, guidance documents, case studies, checklists, datasets, fact sheets, and technical support resources for addressing environmental concerns related to disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The tool provides information for a host of different scenarios, including oil spills, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, disease outbreaks, tornadoes, earthquakes, and chemical or radiological accidents.

The listening sessions will be a great opportunity for sharing resources such as the resiliency wizard, and an opportunity to hear directly from our partners about what else they need to protect public health and increase their capacity to rebound from disasters. It’s all part of a powerful partnership that is helping us all meet the challenges of the day, even when the odds seem daunting.