About Justin Smulison

Justin Smulison is the business content writer at RIMS.

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.

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.

Flu-Related Deaths on the Rise

Frigid weather across the United States and low effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine have been blamed for a jump in the number of flu cases being reported across the country. Epidemiologists in 36 states so far have reported widespread influenza activity to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those states, 21 reported a high number of cases.

Worldwide, the estimated number of fatalities caused by seasonal influenza-related respiratory illnesses is also higher than expected, according to the CDC. The agency released a new study in December 2017 with statistics indicating that between 291,000 and 646,000 people die from influenza every year, an increase from the previous estimate of 250,000 to 500,000. The estimates were drawn from a collaborative multinational survey conducted by the CDC and its global health partners.

“These findings remind us of the seriousness of flu and that flu prevention should really be a global priority,” said Joe Bresee, M.D., associate director for global health in CDC’s Influenza Division and a study co-author.

The study, which appeared in The Lancet, excluded data related to pandemics, indicated that poorer nations and older adults are especially at risk. It explained:

People age 75 years and older and people living in sub-Saharan African countries experienced the highest rates of flu-associated respiratory deaths. Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asian countries had slightly lower but still high rates of flu-associated respiratory deaths.

One cause for the rise could be that few developing countries have seasonal flu vaccination programs or the capacity to produce and distribute seasonal or pandemic vaccines.

The information was released following the CDC’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, which was held in early December 2017. That also marked what is typically considered the start of the season which continues through February in the U.S., although activity can last as late as May. Flu activity is expected to increase this month, the CDC warned back in December, and the freezing conditions from last week’s “bomb cyclone” may contribute to fully realizing that prediction.

People at high risk include:

  • Pregnant women.
  • Children younger than 5 years old, but especially children younger than 2 years old.
  • People 65 years of age and older.
  • People of any age who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests that employers use this critical time to promote policies and procedures to protect their employees from communicable diseases like influenza, and reinforce that the risks may be greater for certain workers. According to SHRM:

Employers must be open to discuss employee concerns and listen to their ideas and suggestions for ways to help them stay healthy. Employers can encourage employees who are at high risk to talk with their health care provider to determine what, if any, additional measures they should consider to keep themselves healthy and safe at work. Employers should strongly consider doctor’s accommodation requests for high-risk workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) web site has a fact sheet and guidelines for companies to follow with regard to the flu and pandemics. Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a page with tips for employers hoping to curb seasonal flu outbreaks in their workplaces and among employees. NIOSH’s suggestions include:

Get Ready for the ‘Weather Bomb’

In case you need another reason to dread getting to work this first week of 2018, several weather authorities are warning of a major storm that could affect a majority of the United States with freezing conditions. Storm advisories are being issued from New England states to southeastern winter getaways. Residents of South Carolina, Georgia and even northern Florida should be thinking about stocking up on ground salt, thermal pants and hand warmers.

Nancy Egan, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s (PCI) regional manager warned: “A dangerous combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain is on the horizon for the Southeast. Weather like this can cause auto accidents, and property damage, and leave thousands without power. Driving in these treacherous conditions can be tricky, so if you do venture out, make sure your vehicle has a winter storm kit in case you have an accident or get stuck and have to wait for help.”

PCI suggests that winter storm kits include a windshield scraper and small broom; flashlight with extra batteries; road salt, sand or cat litter for traction; booster cables; emergency flares and reflectors; snack food; blankets and a first aid kit.

These warnings are inspired by speculation that intensifying winds and cold will bring about a phenomenon known as “bombogenesis” from Thursday to Friday. In an online primer, Mashable delved into the relevant information that organizations need to know about the “weather bomb” or “bomb cyclone.”

[Bombogenesis] refers to a low pressure area whose minimum central air pressure plummets by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. By feasting off of intense atmospheric disturbances as well as differences in air masses and ocean temperatures, including the moisture rich Gulf Stream waters, the upcoming tempest is projected to exceed that intensification rate by several more millibars in 24 hours. This intensification rate, if it comes to pass, would be astonishing.

The potential impact of the upcoming storm could equal that of a Category 3 hurricane, the same strength Hurricane Sandy reached at its peak in 2012. With this in mind, companies located anywhere along the projected path should be heeding the warnings and preparing.

This follows a cold snap that has so far killed at least 11 people in cold-related deaths in the U.S. since Tuesday morning, CNN reported. Some of the victims were located in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Missouri and Texas.

The Southeast has a history of being especially vulnerable to cold-weather conditions. On Jan. 29, 2014, the greater-Atlanta area was rendered nearly unnavigable due to about two inches of snow and ice. Although Georgia is the home of the Weather Channel, state officials failed to act on warnings of the precipitation and freezing conditions, and closed all schools mid-day—about the same time that businesses shuttered for the day. Between parents who were on the road to pick up their children and adults leaving their workplaces due to early closings, millions of cars ended up on roadways, causing a gridlock that prevented salt trucks from safely getting to and from storage areas.

The consequences were unprecedented for the area. Although no fatalities were recorded, the Peach State experienced thousands of traffic accidents, closures and even automobile abandonments on interstate highways.

To prevent such a disaster from reoccurring, Georgia’s Department of Transportation announced via Twitter this week that it has mobilized 13 trucks loaded with salt and gravel in anticipation of the storm. While no announcements have been distributed on the Florida Department of Transportation’s site, FloridaDisaster.org is keeping its visitors updated with news of “below average temperatures.” South Carolina has been posting updates on its DOT site, and reminding motorists to use particular caution and to “watch for slow moving SCDOT equipment applying deicing materials.”