APELL as a Technique for Community Preparedness Planning and Evaluation of the Planning Process

SUIKKANEN, Johannaa and GABLEHOUSE, Timothyb

a UNEP-DTIE Sustainable Consumption & Production Branch, Johanna.Suikkanen@unep.or b Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership, Inc., tgablehouse@gcgllc.com

Abstract — Natural and technological disasters occur everywhere and can cause harm to people and damage to the environment and property. Many communities may feel powerless when faced with these hazards. However, improved preparedness for emergencies can greatly improve a community’s ability to respond and survive both natural and technological disasters. A second edition of the Handbook on APELL has been developed, offering guidance to community leaders and members, industry and local authorities that wish to improve their level of preparedness. APELL is a demonstrated process for improving community preparedness for technological accidents at the local level. It has application to natural hazards as well.

Keywords — APELL, community preparedness

1 Introduction

There is no doubt that people in communities impacted by natural disasters or technological accidents will by default be the first responders to that event. They will be the first people with the opportunity to protect lives and minimize harm. The critical need is, therefore, to organize and prepare these community members.

Beginning in the late 1980s, following various industrial disasters (technological accidents) that occurred around the world, resulting in adverse impacts on the environment and loss of life, various countries adopted statutes and regulations designed to improve awareness and preparedness in local communities.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggested a series of measures to help governments and communities, particularly in developing countries, minimize the occurrence and harmful effects of technological accidents and emergencies. Even if it is believed that all technological accidents are preventable, one must be realistic enough to be aware of potential risks and be prepared in the event that an accident occurs. Such preparation should lead to a better understanding and awareness of local hazards, and thus to preventive actions and improved community preparedness.

UNEP developed, in cooperation with the chemical industry and governments, a Handbook on “Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL) - A Process for responding to technological accidents”, designed to assist decision-makers and technical personnel in improving community awareness of facilities or chemical handling operations, such as factories, warehouses, ports, and other installations along with transportation where the risk of chemical releases is present, and in preparing response plans should unexpected events at these installations endanger life, property or the environment. The Handbook is not intended to replace or interfere with such national or international standards, but rather to complement these standards and programmes through improved awareness and coordination in the face of risks. The process created by the APELL Programme is a tool that can assist in achieving the goals of all these programmes.

The most important reason to implement the APELL methodology is to prevent industrial accidents from happening and reduce any potential impacts of in the case of an industrial accident such as a spillage of toxic substances, an explosion or a fire, or a natural hazard induced incident. It helps avoid or minimise harm to people and damage to the environment and property.

The APELL process aims at reduced vulnerability through improved community emergency preparedness and relies on the sharing of information among the concerned members of the community on the hazards in their neighborhood, allowing the community to be and to feel safer.

One aspect that distinguishes APELL from other international initiatives is the local focus; the process is intended to be owned, implemented and maintained by individual communities. The Handbook is a generic document intended as an aid to leaders within communities that wish to improve their level of preparedness. It is complementary to provisions of national law or international programmes that may already be in place.

The APELL Handbook gives guidance and references that will help a community assess the hazards and capabilities that exist to address those hazards. The APELL process can be initiated by any individual or organization potentially affected by hazards and risks present in their community; but on specific elements of the methodology there may be need to seek support from external experts.

UNEP has made significant efforts to raise worldwide awareness of the effectiveness of the APELL Process for improving local awareness and preparedness for technological accidents and natural disasters. APELL has been introduced in more than 30 countries, and in more than 80 communities. This has resulted in long-lasting local-level partnerships, including some that have been active for more than 15 years, and has led to successful multi-stakeholder emergency preparedness efforts. Specific guidance materials have been prepared for the chemical, mining, and transport sectors, port areas and storage facilities which have been applied in industrialized communities worldwide.

The 2nd edition of the APELL Handbook in in production. The guidance it contains is based on the experience that has been gathered in the past decades. The new edition of the Handbook recognizes that in most communities there is no difference between the people and organizations that engage in preparedness planning for technological and natural disasters. As a result the handbook emphasizes that preparedness is a locally led process that must be flexible in order to adapt to local conditions. Because it is a local process identifying and measuring successes must also be tied to the local context and must be measured locally. The Handbook aims to give guidance on how to create metrics and measure success. This guidance is discussed further below.

2 How APELL Works

The specific goals of the APELL Process are:

  • Provide information to the concerned members of the community on the hazards in their neighborhood, and the measures taken to reduce these hazards
  • Review, update, or establish emergency preparedness plans in the local area
  • Increase local industry involvement in community awareness and emergency preparedness planning
  • Integrate industry emergency plans with local emergency plans into one overall plan for the community to improve preparedness for all types of emergencies
  • Involve members of the local community in the development, testing and implementation of the overall emergency preparedness plan.
  • The current handbook is available for download at: http://apell.eecentre.org.

APELL is a coordinated planning process designed to improve, first, community awareness and, second, preparedness for technological accidents and natural disasters that could have impacts on the community. Its overall goals are to help communities prevent loss of life, damage to health, well-being and livelihoods, minimize property damage, and protect the environment. These same goals apply regardless of the nature of the emergency, whether it is a technological accident, a natural disaster or a combination of events such as might occur following an earthquake or tsunami disaster or smaller scale events such as lightning storms. The tools and assets available to a community for both preparedness and response are typically not different between these sorts of events. As a result, the APELL planning process is equally applicable to preparedness planning for technological or natural disasters.

At the local level there are three very important partners who must be involved if the preparedness level of the community is to be improved:

  • Local government authorities: These may include province, district, city or town officials, either elected or appointed, who are responsible for safety, public health and environmental protection in their area.
  • Industry: Plant managers of local facilities whether state-owned or private companies, managers of logistic companies, or the managers of any enterprise handling hazardous materials in the community who are responsible for safety and accident prevention in their operations.
  • Local community and interest groups: These may include groups involved in environmental protection, health, lay care, media, and religious organizations, as well as leaders in the educational and business sectors that represent the concerns and views of their constituents in the community.

It is likely that some community members will already have addressed some or all of the elements of the APELL Process. This Handbook anticipates that response plans in particular are likely to have been created by industry, government or volunteer agencies such as fire brigades. The APELL planning process builds upon whatever preparedness and response programmes, plans and efforts already exist in the community.

At the national level, governments have an important role to provide the cooperative climate and support under which local participants can achieve better preparedness. Through leadership and endorsement, national authorities should foster participation of everyone at the local level and to the extent available, the APELL Process should be incorporated into existing local or national environmental and safety regulatory structures.

The 2nd edition of the Handbook incorporates the objectives of the 1988 Edition of the Handbook and presents the APELL Process as a practical, focused framework for action adaptable for each community’s goals and vision of success. The APELL Process has two parallel and complementary objectives: raising awareness, communicating and educating the community and improving emergency preparedness planning; including the development of coordinated and integrated emergency preparedness plans. In many ways, the process is as important or more important as the resulting or improved preparedness plans.

The APELL Process seeks to improve community awareness and integrated preparedness for emergencies through a coordinated process involving all members of the community. The most successful APELL programmes spread responsibility throughout all the stakeholders in the community. The APELL Process creates a dialogue about risk, capabilities and plans involving all stakeholders. This leads to clear responsibilities and expectations for all community members.

The heart of the APELL Process is the coordinating group, bringing together the various stakeholders in the community, including decision-makers from industry, government, response organisations, and others who may be affected by emergencies or can provide valuable expertise or information, including community leaders and representatives. APELL relies on broad community participation, flexibility to adapt to the conditions of any community and constant effort to refresh the process.

The APELL Handbook provides the basic concepts for initiating and managing the APELL Process. These are organized into ten conceptual elements within five phases of activity. The first phase provides advice on involving the right participants and organizations. The second phase is focused on understanding and improving awareness of the risks in the community. The third phase examines plans and capabilities, and establishes a vision of success for the community’s efforts to improve preparedness. The fourth phase involves education, training and other efforts to implement emergency plans. The fifth phase discusses the cycle of continuous improvement. The concepts and tools suggested are flexible, and the mechanics of their operation should be adapted to specific local conditions and requirements.

Although the elements are presented in sequence, it is stressed that this is an iterative process and it may be necessary to revisit or repeat elements at different points and to otherwise adapt to community conditions.

3 Measuring Progress at the Community Level

There is no doubt that the APELL Process has made valuable contributions in community preparedness. It is nonetheless important to have a clear process by which communities can measure their progress and determine if the actions they are taking continue to achieve the desired outcomes. The approach recommended by the 2nd edition of the APELL Handbook is based on “Guidance on Developing Safety Performance Indicators related to Chemical Accident Prevention, Preparedness and Response for Public Authorities and Communities”, which was published by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) in December 2008.

This Guidance can be useful for Communities wishing to develop metrics that measure and demonstrate progress towards the Vision of Success. The Guidance focuses on the process of establishing indicators that are relevant to the community’s situation and its particular vision of success. The choice of the right indicators is important. For example, the number of people trained is less important than whether the training they received was targeted at a capabilities gap and whether or not the success of the training is verified through testing or exercises. There is also a Guidance on Developing Safety Performance Indicators for Industry which can be used in parallel. The full guidance may be found at http://www.oecd.org/ehs. An interactive website allows users to select and customize their review program at http://oecdsafetyindicators.org/.

Setting goals and measuring progress allows communities to take a step-by-step approach to reducing the likelihood of accidents and improving preparedness and response capabilities. Depending upon local risks, capacities and conditions there several possible goals and metrics that can be applied to the activities of communities in following the APELL Process. One size does not fit all. The advantage of this program for Coordinating Groups is the ability to set goals and measure progress in a way that is specifically relevant to the community.

The success of the APELL Process may be evaluated by local government entities, the mayor, the city council, or a similar group, in order to determine an appropriate level of funding as well as whether the work deserves the time and attention of the Stakeholders. Industry may want to know if the chemical information (and often, the financial support) they provide is being used wisely and efficiently. Individual citizens may wonder if the work is effectively protecting them. National government agencies may use indicators of success to support grant funding and other decisions related to support of the APELL Process. And, of course, the people directly involved in trying to improve community preparedness individually will want to determine if they are satisfied with the work and whether the efforts have led to better protection of the community from technological risks and natural hazard events. All these and other issues can provide the reason to measure the progress of the APELL Process.

4 How to Measure Progress

Many expect a checklist of what they should be doing to be provided to them. However, it is better for APELL Process Coordinating Groups to have their own “Vision of Success” based upon the risks, capacities and conditions in the community they serve. That vision should be written, clear and come from a group discussion of the concerns and motivations that caused the participants of the Coordinating Group to join.

It may be that none of the Coordinating Group members believe the vision is obtainable given current resources. That does not matter as long as the Coordinating Group understands its mission is to make progress towards the vision. The “Vision of Success” is an aspirational goal and should set the long-term objectives for the work done by the Coordinating Group.

Some Coordinating Groups have adopted a “Vision of Success” along the lines of an engaged community with a broad safety and preparedness culture as shown by:

  • Robust emergency planning and personal preparation
  • Effective and safe response
  • Accidents are prevented

Obviously, this or any “Vision of Success” cannot be achieved in one or two steps. It is, instead, achieved through a progression of activities designed to achieve milestones along the path to success. To define these steps Coordinating Groups for the APELL Process establish both long-term and short-term goals that it believes will lead to achieving the “Vision of Success”. These goals should be a product of clear discussion and agreement among the Coordinating Group membership with community stakeholder participation.

In using the OECD manuals it is important to understand that there is a change in terminology. For purposes of the SPI program goals are often called “outcomes.” The key distinction is that “outputs” are the products that the created (e.g., your emergency plan, your evacuation plan) or things that you do (e.g., conduct monthly meetings) but they are not the goals or outcomes that lead to your “Vision of Success”. Instead, achieving a goal or outcome requires measuring the results from outputs or activities in a way that is relevant to the goals or outcomes. For the purposes of SPI these results are called targets or metrics. In other words, when a goal is set it should be paired with the metric that demonstrates whether progress towards the goal is being made and when the goal is achieved.

4.1 The following examples will clarify the outcome/output distinction and the role of targets.

If the community has recently had a chemical release that led to injuries and deaths, the Community could establish a goal: no more injuries and deaths from a technological accident in this community. That is a clear goal, perhaps overly ambitious in the eyes of some people, but one that is understandable and sensible in the context of the community’s recent history.

  • There are a variety of possible metrics/targets: no deaths or injuries this year, no accidental releases this year, and/or a 30% reduction in the number of accidental releases this year.
  • As for “outputs,” the products and/or activities that the Coordinating Group undertakes to meet the metric/target for the goal, it could be a revised emergency plan, exercises to test the emergency plan, training for local responders, outreach materials for local citizens to ensure that they know the appropriate steps to take if there is an accidental release, improved notification systems to ensure that citizens are aware of a release, establishing a continuous dialog with industries in the community on risk reduction and accident prevention, and so forth.
  • The Coordinating Group then looks at the metrics/targets, including trends and changes over time, to determine if the outputs are productive and useful in achieving the goal.

The Community might have as a goal that local citizens be aware of the chemical hazards present in the community combined with a goal that will involve increased awareness of personal responsibility and appropriate actions in the event of an accident. The target could be a specific annual increase in the number of people familiar with local chemical hazards. Measuring success could involve some process for interviewing citizens annually or citizen performance in exercises or other tests of emergency plans. “Activities or outputs” to achieve this goal could be public meetings at which chemical hazard information is shared, printed materials with maps showing the location of specific chemicals, video materials for use on television programs and/or at public meetings.

Another possible goal is to have all facilities in the community be in full compliance with environmental protection or worker safety laws. Targets could be an annual increase in the number of facilities that have submitted information or a reduction in the number of facilities found to be in noncompliance during inspections. Activities to accomplish these targets, might include an annual campaign focused on a specific industry sector, or a public campaign urging all facilities to submit the required information.

A specific preparedness goal might be for all students and teachers in local schools to be familiar with what actions they should take if there is a technological accident in the community with a possible impact on the school. A possible target could be the number of students/teachers who take the appropriate action during an exercise. As activities the Community could conduct training on hazard awareness, shelter in place, develop print and audio/visual materials, and/or prepare signs to post at strategic points.

5 Conclusion

The most important reason to implement the APELL methodology is to prevent industrial accidents from happening and reduce any potential impacts of in the case of an industrial accident such as a spillage of toxic substances, an explosion or a fire, or a natural hazard induced incident. It helps avoid or minimise harm to people and damage to the environment and property. The APELL process aims at reduced vulnerability through improved community emergency preparedness and relies on the sharing of information among the concerned members of the community on the hazards in their neighborhood, allowing the community to be and to feel safer.


Suikkanen, J. and Gablehouse, T. (2015): APELL as a Technique for Community Preparedness Planning and Evaluation of the Planning Process. In: Planet@Risk, 3(1): 20-23, Davos: Global Risk Forum GRF Davos.