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Office of Emergency Response
James Ball, Emergency Reponse Coordinator
235 Promenade Street
Providence, RI 02908-5767
(401) 222-4700 ext. 7129
This office is Rhode Island's first line of defense in protecting public health, safety, and welfare in an environmental emergency. Like police and fire fighters, DEM's emergency responders are prepared to handle incidents of great variety - everything from a spill of a few gallons to a whole tanker-full of petroleum, from a single abandoned drum to biological and chemical weapons. Highly trained first responders are on-call 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.
These responders spend the bulk of their time remediating a stream of manageable mishaps that could otherwise pose a significant danger. Nearly every day of every year, despite preventive measures, hundreds of incidents threaten the public as well as the environment. Emergency responders are prepared to limit the risks from oil and chemical spills, failed tanks or pipes, fires or fumes, overturned trucks, sunken vessels, litter, WMD (weapons of mass destruction), abandoned drums, and the like.
The goal of responders is to assess, contain, and remediate environmental incidents. Their first job is to secure the site, to minimize the risk to the public and the environment. They then aim to remove the source of the risk, with minimal cost to the taxpayer. Normally the most effective approach is to work cooperatively with the responsible party (the RP), the person whose action or property is the source of an environmental threat. The RP is legally and financially responsible for damages, including the cost of containment, cleanup, and restoration to State standards. DEM Emergency Responders will provide technical assistance. They can help find and supervise appropriate contractors, monitor and interpret conditions, review sampling and remediation plans, and provide coordination with other state, local, and federal agencies that are concerned. In some cases (for example, if the RP is unknown, absent, or uncooperative) responders may mitigate the site on their own. In all of these efforts, DEM Emergency Responders aim to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public and the environment.
This Office of DEM responds to more than 700 incidents each year, but only a tiny fraction grab headlines. (See Reports and Statistics) So Rhode Islanders might easily underestimate how many incidents start with ordinary events around the home. A small spill or a bit of improperly disposed waste may seem innocuous, but it can result in calamity, fouling a whole neighborhood or a watershed. These mishaps often plague citizens who think of themselves as "unlucky." But they also could have been more careful in the first place. For tips on what you can do, see: Preventing Environmental Emergencies.