Emergency Management

Large, well managed facilities have emergency management plans detailing how operations will continue or shut down when there is a natural disaster. Damaged buildings and equipment and outages of electric power and water service must be dealt with. Waste management activities are also affected when there is an emergency, and the waste manager has input to the overall facility plan.

The disaster-management cycle has three phases:

  • initial assessment
  • immediate response
  • longer term recovery

Waste managers do a rapid initial assessment after a disaster to inform first responders of risks they might encounter and risks to other people in the area. An initial assessment identifies hazardous waste that is outside of the containers it should be in. This gives an action plan for short-term risk reduction. If the facility is not going back to normal, this waste needs to be removed.

If there are injuries, medics may go into triage mode. Triage activities may generated infectious waste, but you may not have time to assess all the waste. Therefore, we recommend that all waste produced in triage be considered biohazardous and place in containers labeled with the biohazard sign. When the crisis is over, these containers are managed just like other biomedical waste.

After a disaster, your normal route for disposing of waste may be slowed or disrupted. The landfill operations might be shut-down, or treatment facilities where you send waste. At the same time, demand for medical services is likely to increase. This means inventories of waste can build up, putting strain on your collection and storage systems. This is one reason we encourage facilities to build in a contingency capacity. You don’t want your waste to exceed your capacity to handle it.

If the emergency situation results in infectious waste posing a threat to public health:

  • Ensure your waste storage facilities are intact and that wherever you send the waste can continue to accept and treat waste.
  • Determine the availability of medical waste transporters.
  • Determine if medical waste management services are still operating.

The CDC website offers an Environmental Health Emergency Response Guide