Community Relations

3.0 Community Relations

Information about your risk management plan (RMP) will no doubt receive media coverage. Organizations will want to make sure that they have briefed local officials and other key stakeholders, such as neighbors, before this information appears in the news, or before the stakeholders are contacted by media people seeking their reactions to the RMP. Organization managers can better ensure that they are providing complete information to community leaders by briefing these people themselves. It is important to remember that many other members of the community are likely to call community leaders for help in understanding the RMP. Organizations should give community leaders the information necessary to answer general questions and to encourage residents to call RMP reporting organizations directly for more details.

3.1 Public Notification

How can I prevent a panic in my community when the RMP is released?

Beginning a dialogue with your community will be most effective if you begin before the RMP is released to the public. Risk communication and public involvement activities should be done by trained professionals. The activities you conduct will depend upon the level of community interest, the visibility of your operations, and other factors such as your safety record, community perceptions about the type of chemicals you handle, and the number of people potentially affected in a worst-case scenario.

Many organizations want to know what type of activities should be considered to begin and maintain an effective dialogue with their community. Although each situation is different, the following activities are proven to be effective. All organizations that are required to complete a RMP should consider doing the following:

  • Develop public notification procedures with local emergency response groups that accommodate community concerns.

    If these procedures are developed, documentation will help reduce or eliminate the sense of dread that may develop for those people who may be potentially effected by an accident at your facility. There may be special concerns that should be added to these procedures. Separate notification for schools and senior citizen facilities may ease community concerns for family and friends.

  • Prepare a fact sheet of responses to the most likely to be asked questions.

    Misperceptions about your operations will grow when there is a lack of information that is available and clearly understood within the community. Accidents, changes in the physical appearance of your facility, and seemingly unrelated events such as a dispute with organized labor, often results in misinformation that spreads through the community which can either start or add to misperceptions. A short, preferably less than two pages, fact sheet that can be understood by the community serves two functions by filling an information gap and providing something in writing.

3.2 Employee Education

Inform your employees of the purpose, content, and answers to these most likely to be asked questions about the RMP. One of the primary sources of information about your organization to the community is your employees.

If they are properly informed, the chances of misinformation and rumors will decrease.

Select a spokesperson who is knowledgeable about emergency response procedures who is available locally to handle questions from citizen groups and the news media.

3.3 Public Accessibility

Make copies of your RMP accessible to your community. Place copies of your RMP at a location, such as a public library, that will be convenient for members of the community. Inform the community that the plans are available for them to look at and the times and locations where they can view them.

For some organizations there will be a high level of public interest in their organization and their risk management plans. The level of public interest in your organization can depend on several factors, including:

  • your organizations safety record;
  • the types and quantities of materials you use; and
  • prior level of interest in your organization by the community.

Organizations that have a high level of public interest should consider the following additional activities in beginning a dialogue with a community:

  • Hosting an Open House -- One of the best ways for the public to understand what your organization does is to see it in operation. Open houses or facility tours give your organization a setting to respond to incorrect or misinformation people may have heard about your company. It also provides you with the opportunity to address community concerns about your organization.
  • Creating a Repository -- Create a file item such as your organization's RMP, environmental permits, emergency response information and general information about your organization. Select a location, preferably off-site, such as a library, where this information is available to the public. By doing this, your organization provides information to the community at their convenience.

3.4 Dialogue Through Citizen's Advisory Panels

Setting up a Citizens Advisory Panel -- For some organizations, setting up a Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP) will be the best way to identify the concerns of the community. CAPs are most often used in larger communities where there many different stakeholders and competing interests. CAPs can help organizations by providing a forum for gathering public opinion, providing accurate information, and resolving differences. The panels are usually represented individuals from many different segments of the community.

Who should be part of this dialogue?

The individuals and groups who you initially contact should include the following:

  • Adjacent property owners;
  • Administrators of organizations within the worst-case scenario distance: schools, nursing and senior citizen facilities, hospitals, day-care centers, and places of worship;
  • County Board Members;
  • Mayor and council members;
  • Public Health Agencies;
  • Civic and environmental groups; and
  • The Media.

Should I form a citizens panel such as those advocated by the chemical industry?

An organized forum for formal dialogue between an organization and the community has been proven effective in many areas of Illinois and elsewhere. Citizen panels are one of many tools and techniques that you can use to establish and maintain formal dialogue.

Should every organization required to submit a RMP form a citizens panel?

No. This tool is recommended when:

  • a large number of residents are potentially affected by your operation, especially where multiple communities are involved;
  • high interest in your facility is evident through direct inquiries or news media coverage, or
  • when misperceptions exist about risk posed to the community, site safety, operations, or other key issues.

Who can provide further assistance?

If you have specific questions regarding section112(r), please contact Dixon Nwaji at the Illinois EPA at 217/524-4343.

The Illinois EPA's Office of Community Relations has expertise in both risk communication and public involvement. You can contact:

Office of Community Relations
P.O. Box 19276
1021 North Grand Avenue, East
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276
Tel: 217/782-5562
Fax: 217/785-7725