Calif. Debris Removal Presents Health, Environmental Risks

Last week, Santa Barbara, California suffered 20 casualties, countless injuries and millions of dollars in property damage due to the unprecedented mudslides that tore through the city of Montecito. Search and rescue efforts continue in the aftermath of the phenomenon, which was caused by the heavy rains washing away ground laid bare by the Thomas Fire in December 2017. The resulting millions of pounds of debris left behind present biological and environmental risks to the area. Returning residents have been warned to protect against potentially hazardous chemicals and untreated sewage that were swept along with the mudslide debris. Meanwhile, where all this mud and debris will be moved to presents another dilemma.

Public Health Advisory
On Jan. 17, Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department issued a public health advisory to warn about potential health conditions residents and workers may face as they return to their homes and businesses. The advisory states that “unknown amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals and untreated sewage were swept into the mudslide debris that flowed through impacted areas,” and provided tips for those affected to protect their health amid cleanup and recovery.

The advisory warned that residents also are at risk of wound infections, rashes, illnesses borne from raw sewage mixing into the debris and immersion foot syndrome (also known as “trench foot”), among other injuries.

Although it was encouraged to leave cleanups to professionals, the Health Department recommended Tetanus shots for those engaged in cleanup activities who have not been vaccinated during the past 10 years. It also acknowledged that while the hepatitis A virus could theoretically be spread via exposure to feces or raw sewage, it had not received any reports of that scenario and maintained the probability is low.

Removal Efforts
Temporary solutions for moving and storing the debris are reportedly in place. According to the Los Angeles Times, dump trucks “discarded at least 3,500 tons—or about 7 million pounds—of muck at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, where it will be stored temporarily until crews can sort through it.”

The Times continued:

Up to 1,000 tons more—per day—could eventually make it down to the Calabasas Landfill. To help with cleanup efforts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a temporary waiver to allow the intake through mid-April.

Santa Paula Materials, which sells rocks and recycled construction debris, will collect the rocks that are hauled out, while Standard Industries, a building material manufacturer, will take the metal and tires, said Lance Klug, spokesman for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery’s Office of Emergency Services.

Wildfire Cleanup Ongoing
The mudslide debris removal compounds the already daunting task of clearing Thomas wildfire debris in other areas. On Jan. 12, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) announced that its cleanup program had moved nearly 1 million tons from the burn scarred areas and had completed work in Yuba, Butte, Nevada and Lake Counties, but “still had much work to be done.” The Environmental Chemical Corporation will continue the massive undertaking of debris clean-up in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties that were hard-hit during the October 2017 wildfire siege.

The Better Business Bureau issued guidelines for removing both wildfire and mud debris, classifying it into four main categories and recommending disposal in the following ways:

  • Branches, trees and vegetative wastes​ can be separated from the other debris and later can be sent to the community burn pile. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site.
  • Construction debris​. The structural materials from houses and buildings—such as concrete, boards, shingles, windows, siding and pipes—can be taken to the closest construction and demolition landfill or a permitted municipal solid waste landfill.
  • Other household wastes, ​such as trash and furniture, should be sent to a permitted municipal landfill.
  • Hazardous wastes​. If you believe the waste contains regulated hazardous materials, more care and caution is needed. These wastes should be containerized, labeled, and ultimately sent to a facility that is permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous wastes. In these instances, it is important to contact the department to discuss proper disposal procedures.

The guidelines also provide a full list of items that require special disposal, including pool chemicals, tires and commercial and medical waste.

Preparing C-Level Employees to Address Risk

As risks associated with technology and cybersecurity have increased in the last decade, it is more imperative than ever that corporations undertake the proper protocols to protect themselves.

When it comes to implementing risk management processes, many assume C-level executives head up these efforts, involving key departments throughout their organizations. According to a recent study conducted by NC State’s Poole College of Management, however, 80% of organizations surveyed from all over the world have no formal risk training for executives.
A quick look at recent headlines shows how quickly a cybersecurity incident can damage a corporate brand. Many companies that have recently experienced data breaches also have been exposed by the media because of ineffective or nonexistent integrated risk management strategies. This can be for a variety of reasons, from executives trying to hide the breach to the belief that they can resolve the issue before it grows into something larger or, possibly the worst of the options, they are not aware that the breach is even occurring.

So how do we make risk a priority for executives? In my opinion, it comes down to properly re-framing the mindset of executives around risk through effective education and training.

Educate executives on risk types
When it comes to business, the term “risk” generally produces negative connotations, causing many to avoid addressing the phrase—and the issues—altogether. From workplace injuries, data breaches and even social media nightmares, risks tend to mean trouble for executive teams. The reality, however, is that not all risk is bad. Thus, executive teams must be able to distinguish good risk from bad risk.

What constitutes good risk? Simply put; proactive risk choices that benefit the company. These can include exploring emerging markets and growth opportunities, expanding operations into new product areas and even partnering with new vendors. While these risks can produce negative results, given that they are actively pursued by leadership teams shows that they are intended to better the company and its employees.

Executive teams need to understand the differences in positive and negative risks and their larger impact to their organizations. Specifically, understanding multiple risk types exist can change the approaches your management team takes to recognize and address risks, which will echo throughout your organization.

Train executives on how to address negative risks
Executives must realize negative risks are unavoidable. Because negative incidents will happen, executive teams must learn how to bring proactive approaches to managing these speedbumps in daily operations. Thus, formal training programs should be implanted to educate executives on proper risk management.

Training programs should include internal and external communications strategies, both with positive and negative risks, remediation strategies for negative risks and provide tips on how leadership teams can be risk thought leaders throughout the organization.

Remember, an executive team that places value on proper risk management planning and training will produce a similar culture, enterprise wide.

This will allow organizations to more proactively manage risks before they snowball into larger issues, ensuring long-term success.

Consider creating risk committees
Since all C-level executives are crunched for time, risk management often falls to the back burner. In many situations, I’ve found it beneficial for the C-suite to create corporate risk committees. Designed to reduce the burden on corporate executives by providing an advisory board to report on risks, corporations can benefit from dedicated professionals examining risks throughout the organization in areas including IT and operations.

These committees serve as an extension of the C-suite and can create better transparency, while providing informed insights to help leadership teams make better, more educated decisions.
Remember the importance of a top-down approach
No matter what approach you take to educate your executive team and get them more involved in risk management, corporations must remember enterprise risk management requires working from the top down. As risk professionals, we must do our best to gain leadership buy-in and conduct enterprise-wide training to stay ahead of risk. If NC State’s study has taught us anything, it’s that we still have a lot to learn.

Annual Data Privacy Day to Focus on Safeguarding Data

Last year was certainly a turning point in the history of online privacy and cyber security. Between ransomware attacks, the Equifax breach and the Federal Communication Commission’s vote to repeal net neutrality regulations—just to name a few high-profile incidents in the United States—businesses and citizens have more reasons than ever to safeguard their information.

To address this important issue, the annual Data Privacy Day (DPD) will be held Jan. 28, with online and in-person events leading up to it now that celebrate individual users’ rights to privacy and aim to prevent cyber theft and risk. DPD has been led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in the U.S. since 2011 and “highlights our ever-more connected lives and the critical roles consumers and businesses play in protecting personal information and online privacy,” said NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser.

DPD was created to commemorate the 1981 signing of Convention 108 by the Council of Europe and is observed by more than 47 countries. It was the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection and officially recognized privacy as a human right. NCSA also co-hosts National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. campaign, which aims to increase the public’s understanding of cyber threats.

“Our personal information and our habits and interests fuel the next generation of technological advancement, like the Internet of Things, which will connect devices in our homes, schools and workplaces,” Kaiser said. “Consumers must learn how best to protect their information and businesses must ensure that they are transparent about the ways they handle and protect personal information.”
On Jan. 25, LinkedIn will live-stream an event from its San Francisco office exploring the theme of “Respecting Privacy, Safeguarding Data and Enabling Trust.” The broadcast will feature TED-style talks and panel discussions with experts focusing on the pressing issues that affect businesses and consumers. Additional DPD happenings include Twitter chats and networking gatherings to maintain a dialogue about the importance of privacy rights.
The relevance does not end on Jan. 29, noted Richard Purcell, DPD advisory board member and chief executive officer of Corporate Privacy Group. He has witnessed the event’s evolution and its impact on risk management and privacy professionals.

“The community of privacy professionals is not made up of private people. They want to share information,” noted Purcell, who was named Microsoft’s first corporate privacy officer in 2000. “They initiate a dialogue that the officers bring back to their companies. I have seen how it has stimulated events inside corporations and universities that were inspired by Data Privacy Day networking discussions. The professional development aspects of the day are profound.”
Newly released information from NCSA demonstrates how privacy is impacted in both personal and professional environments—from healthcare and retail to social media, home devices and parenting. Some statistics include:

  • In 2016, 2.2 billion data records were compromised and vulnerabilities were uncovered in internet of things products from leading brands.
  • 41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online and nearly one in five (18%) has been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.
  • Nearly one-third of consumers do not know that many of the “free” online services they use are paid for via targeted advertising made possible by the tracking and collecting of their personal data.
  • About 78% of respondents to a recent survey of healthcare professionals said they have had either a malware and/or ransomware attack in the last 12 months.

Calif. Mudslides Leave 15 Dead

Heavy rains in southern California have caused mudslides in some areas, killing at least 15 people and trapping hundreds. The deluge of mud now covering homes, businesses and freeways are the result of heavy rains washing away ground laid bare by the Thomas Fire—the state’s largest wildfire to-date—which burned more than 280,000 acres in December.
Many of those who had returned home after the wildfires have been evacuated for mudslides. The New York Times wrote:

As the mud rushed into lower-lying neighborhoods in Montecito, a wealthy hillside community where many celebrities have homes, the power went out and gas lines were severed, said Thomas Tighe, a resident. Officials said Tuesday night that it could be several days before gas service would be restored. They also said power failures were affecting more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, adding that many parts of Montecito were without drinkable water.

Driving rain started at about 3:00 a.m. on Jan. 9. By Tuesday, more than 5.5 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Ventura County, the National Weather Service said.  A mandatory evacuation order for about 7,000 residents was issued by Santa Barbara County officials, but many would not leave. As a result, people were trapped in homes and cars and on rooftops by fast-moving rivers of thick mud carrying trees and debris.
CNN reported that dozens of people have been rescued in Santa Barbara County, including a 14-year-old girl trapped beneath a house, and that parts of US 101 in Santa Barbara and Montecito have been closed.

Mudslides are not uncommon in the area, especially following wildfires, and they can be deadly. In January 2005, a landslide struck La Conchita in Ventura County, killing 10 people.