Certain facilities, particularly in the chemical industry, were required to develop a risk management plan (RMP) and submit a summary to the Environmental Protection Agency by June 21, 1999. On Aug. 5, President Clinton signed legislation that establishes new provisions regarding those plans.
One of the provisions requires every covered facility to hold a public meeting by Feb. 2 to share information about local implications of its RMP. The plan contains information on specific hazardous chemicals, quantities stored at the site, a five-year history of accidental chemical releases, the impact of a potential release and worst-case scenario on the surrounding area and the site's accident-prevention program.
The Ammerman Experience, a national communications training firm, offers tips on what to do before and after presenting an RMP to the public. The firm's booklet, Communicating Worst-Case Scenarios: Guidelines for Success, offers suggestions on how to establish trust and credibility when communicating with the public about health, safety and environmental issues and how to deal effectively with the news media.
The booklet also has a timeline for how to prepare for the public meeting:
- Develop your worst-case and more-probable release scenarios;
- Asses the public image of your facility;
- Establish specific, written communication goals;
- Identify your target audiences;
- Determine your key messages;
- Develop a strategic plan or overall strategy to communicate your RMP;
- Select the appropriate communications tools to deliver your messages;
- Seek input and feedback from employees and key members of the community; and
- Select the spokespersons who will meet the public, and assess their skills in public speaking and media relations.
Two to Four Months Prior
- Produce the tools that will be used as part of your communications efforts;
- Obtain the appropriate presentation and media skills training or refresher training for your spokespersons; and
- Arrange all logistical details, including selecting the meeting site, audio-visual equipment, etc.
One Month Prior
- Notify the public of the date(s) of your open house or town meeting through letters, ads, news releases or other means;
- Develop a list of possible questions you might be asked and the appropriate answers; and
- Conduct a dry run.
- Hold a debriefing session with all members of the communications team;
- Review the press coverage that was generated;
- Review all session evaluation forms completed by those who attended your presentation; and
- Determine what short-term and long-term actions need to be taken to address questions and concerns raised by the public.
Although the RMP meeting must be held within the next three months, there's still time to implement the timetable, according to Ammerman. The free booklet is available by calling (800) 866-2026 or visiting the firm's Web site at www.ammermanexperience.com.