3. TYPES OF EMERGENCY SITUATION
The time available to make decisions can vary considerably depending on the type of emergency. For example, when there is an imminent risk of serious harm to people or the environment, dealing with that risk has to be the overriding priority of the emergency response. However, there will generally be a point at which imminent risks of serious harm have been brought under control and there is more time to consider options for minimising the risks to the water environment during the next phases of the emergency response.
Providing an appropriate framework for managing environmental risks in relation to different types of emergency requires a range of legal and practical solutions. The appropriate responses to emergency situations in which controlled activities may need to be promptly authorised, varied or suspended for a period of time can be grouped into three main types:
Type 1: Actions by those bodies and
organisations responsible for the emergency response to an
incident and which are necessary for the purpose of protecting:
- people from imminent risks of serious of harm (including death, injury and illness); or
- the environment from imminent risks of serious harm (including risks to the life and health of plants and animals and the fabric of buildings).
- Type 2: Urgent remedial actions in the aftermath of an accident, flood or other emergency that are necessary to make a site safe and to prevent significant disruption of important social or economic services (e.g. sewage treatment works, drinking water supply, key transport infrastructure; essential electricity generation and transmission facilities; etc). These actions may be carried out by the Fire and Rescue Services, local authorities, other public bodies or contractors.
- Type 3: Actions necessary to help manage or contain potentially serious environmental problems that are at significant risk of escalating. Such problems may include water shortages; outbreaks of exotic animal diseases (e.g. foot and mouth); the appearance of parasites or pests that pose a significant risk to fish stocks or crops; or action required to control invasive non-native species.
In a Type 1 situation, environmental risks will be managed as far as possible by incorporating environmental protection measures within the normal operating procedures of those bodies responsible for dealing with the emergency. This approach is supported by means of the defence provisions within CAR.
Type 2 situations typically cover a wider range of circumstances, as some remedial actions may require an urgent response, whereas others may allow a greater opportunity for detailed consideration to be given to the impacts on the water environment and its users. In Type 3 situations, there is typically more time than in other types of emergency to consider risks to the water environment and its users, as this type of situation generally escalates over a period of time. CAR makes provision for accelerated authorisation, variation or suspension of controlled activities to deal with these various needs, and is sufficiently flexible to allow SEPA to determine what sort of procedures to put in place, depending on the nature of the emergency.
Examples of emergency situations where the undertaking of controlled activities speedily may be necessary
It may be necessary in an emergency to abstract water from the water environment to extinguish a fire - and the efforts to extinguish the fire may result in pollutants being washed into the water environment.
To minimise danger to human health and built property during a flood event, it may be necessary to take immediate action involving the carrying out of emergency engineering works in the water environment to reinforce flood defence structures or dams and protect key infrastructure. In the aftermath of such an event, it may be necessary to take swift action involving controlled activities in order to reinstate key economic and social services.
Following a pollution incident, to protect the water environment or water uses, such as drinking water supply, it may be necessary for urgent engineering works to be carried out (e.g. to repair a burst sewer in the water environment) or to install a temporary impounding structure to limit the spread of the pollutants.
Following an accident, it may be necessary for the emergency services to undertake engineering works in the water environment in order to facilitate the rescue of persons trapped at the scene. Once the immediate danger is over, action may be needed to make the area safe and restore important social and economic services. This may involve further controlled activities.
To maintain drinking water supplies during an exceptionally dry period, it may be necessary to supplement normal drinking water sources with temporary abstractions of water from different parts of the water environment.
Urgent action involving controlled activities may be needed to: (i) contain or eradicate an outbreak of a disease that would have a serious affect on economically important crops, livestock or wild fish or shellfish; or (ii) prevent the introduction or spread of an invasive non-native species. For example, to tackle a disease that could decimate wild fish stocks it may be necessary to treat the disease or stop its spread by discharging suitable chemicals into the water environment. Action to deal with an outbreak of a disease of livestock, such as foot and mouth, may require the mass burial of animal carcasses, leading to a risk of pollutants entering the water environment.