Edited Version November 3, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Online Library Presentation

"The Debris Management Cycle: An Overview"

Robert Swan
Dewberry & Davis

EIIP Moderator: Amy Sebring

The original unedited transcript of the November 3, 1999 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library!

For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

We will start with a presentation, and then follow with a Q&A session for your questions and comments. Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review the procedure.

Please do NOT send direct messages to the speaker or moderator as it makes it difficult for us to follow the discussion.

Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/991103.htm> There you will find a link to the paper that is the topic of today's discussion, "The Debris Management Cycle: An Overview."


We are pleased to welcome Robert Swan from Dewberry & Davis, who is an expert in this area having worked many of the major disasters of the decade. He is the author of the FEMA Debris Management Guide and developed the Debris Management Course for FEMA's Emergency Management Institute.

Welcome Bob. We are very pleased to have you with us today.


Robert Swan: Thank you, Amy. Good afternoon!

Each year local and State government entities worldwide are faced with the task of removing and disposing of debris caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, fires, and earthquakes. These debris-generating events have significant impacts on the economic and social well being of the affected communities.

Debris removal and cleanup will cost more than any other item in a disaster recovery budget. Moreover, responsible officials will find themselves under extreme pressure to institute immediate debris removal and disposal actions without the benefit of a well-thought debris management strategy.

This presentation will use the Debris Management Cycle as the framework to identify universal debris removal and disposal issues, and why it is extremely important to have a Debris Management Plan in place before a disaster happens. The Debris Management Cycle is a means to visually tie together the variety of debris issues for those responsible for planning and executing debris clean up following a major disaster.

Please take a moment to view the Debris Management Cycle.

Note that the cycle consists of four identifiable phases:





Amy, SLIDE 1, please.


Specific debris issues can be identified with each phase. By using this model, emergency planners will be able to identify potential issues before they happen and plan accordingly. Experience has shown that regardless of the type or magnitude of the debris-generating event, the issues identified in the Debris Management Cycle will occur.


Normal Operations is defined as the period of time before a major debris- generating event occurs. PLANNING ISSUES are addressed during this phase. The most important planning issue is the development of a well thought-out Debris Management Plan that will become the keystone to any debris clean up operation.

The Debris Management Plan should be locally developed with external participation to: 1) Encourage a diversity of strategic innovations

2) Promote active cooperation

3) Develop points of view based on local experience, capabilities, and limitations and

4) Promote information transfer.

The Debris Management Plan should address:







Take a minute to review the items on the slide. Amy, SLIDE 2, please.


In case you did not see the slide, the key paragraphs are:

MISSION: How debris management activities will be facilitated and coordinated.

ORGANIZATION: Who has the overall responsibility for managing the debris cleanup.

CONCEPT OF OPERATIONS: Details how those responsible will manage and coordinate the debris removal and disposal operation.

RESPONSIBILITIES: Identifies specific responsibilities for each department involved in the clean up operation.

ACTIONS: Details such as: waiver procedures, review of local ordinances, environmental regulations, priorities, and mutual aid agreements.

APPENDICES: Copies of maps showing locations of landfills, temporary storage sites, critical facilities, etc.


INCREASED READINESS is defined as the anticipation of an event, such as a hurricane or flood. This is the time when existing plans are reviewed and updated, if required. DEBRIS STAFFING ISSUES are addressed during this phase. The following slide identifies specific staff functions. Amy, SLIDE 3, please.


Key personnel should be alerted and deployed either before or immediately after the disaster and should remain part of the debris staff throughout the disaster cleanup to maintain continuity during the debris removal and disposal operations.

Some debris generating events, such as earthquakes and tornadoes will have little or no response time. Therefore, many of the actions will rollover into the Response Phase.

The debris management staff should coordinate all debris removal and disposal activities. They should establish contact with all local, State, and Federal agencies responsible for disaster response and recovery operations.

Finally, the public information officer should inform the public in understandable terms the magnitude of the disaster and the efforts being taken to expedite debris removal and disposal actions.


The RESPONSE PHASE follows the debris-generating event. It includes actions necessary to implement the Debris Management Plan and begin tasks necessary to protect lives and property in the affected community. DEBRIS REMOVAL ISSUES are addressed during this phase

Debris is normally cleared from the traveled portion of the main roads allowing access to key facilities and to expedite the movement of emergency vehicles. If the event exceeds the capabilities of the local Department of Public Works and/or Department of Solid Waste Management, actions should be taken to obtain additional equipment and manpower through mutual aid agreements and/or contracting. These actions will be expedited if mutual aid agreements are in place and sample scopes of work for equipment rental contracts are in draft form within the Debris Management Plan.

Debris estimating becomes a major issue during the response phase. Estimates of the amount and types of debris is critical in determining if it can be removed by local assets and if temporary debris storage and reduction sites will be needed. The following formulas may assist in arriving at uniform debris estimates:

One story building: L'x W' x H' divided by 27 = _____Cubic Yards x 0.33 =____Cubic Yards. The 0.33 takes into consideration the air space within the building. A debris pile is computed the same, but without the 0.33 multiplier.


The RECOVERY PHASE may last from a few weeks to many months depending on the magnitude of the debris-generating event. DEBRIS DISPOSAL ISSUES are addressed during this phase

This phase represents the actual removal and disposal actions needed to bring the community back to pre-disaster condition. This phase will represent the most challenges to the Debris Management staff, especially if they have failed to consider the following disposal issues:

1) Location and capacity of existing public and private landfills.

2) Location and capacity of potential temporary storage sites.

3) Volume reduction methods: Burning, Grinding, Recycling.

All debris removal issues will hinge on where and how the debris will be disposed of. Debris can be moved faster than it can be processed at local landfills. Therefore, many communities identify temporary debris storage and reduction (TDSR) sites. Debris is moved to the TDSR site and subject to the various volume reduction techniques available. Debris can be burnt, ground into mulch, or recycled.

Clean woody debris can be burnt and the resulting ash used as a soil additive. Air-curtain pit burners can provide a high rate of burn while meeting clean-air requirements. Volume can be reduced by approximately 90%. Large tub grinders and smaller wood chippers are suitable for reducing clean woody debris if burning is restricted. Reduction will still result in approximately 25% of the material remaining in the form of mulch. Arrangements must be made to dispose of the resulting mulch, such as for agricultural use, ornamental, cattle bedding, fuel, etc.

Recycling of soil, construction materials, and metals should be considered if there is a market for such recycled items. Disposal costs can be offset if there is an economic market in existence.


The Debris Management Cycle provides the debris manager with a framework that identifies when significant debris removal and disposal issues might surface. By knowing when these issues might occur the debris manager will be a position to respond to the pressures from both government officials and the public.

Being prepared for the next debris-generating event will reduce the rising costs associated with debris clean up. Having a Debris Management Plan on the shelf is the best insurance policy any community can have to insure that their community and fellow citizens can recover as quickly as possible.

DEWBERRY & DAVIS is prepared to assist communities and private industry in preparing Debris Management Plans and/or providing Debris Management Training. Thank you.

Amy Sebring: Thank you for the overview, Bob. Audience, please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the enter key or clicking on Send. We will now take your questions or comments.

[Audience Questions]


Jeff Hartle: Are there formulas available to predict the # of cubic yards of debris by # of housing units or by # of blocks in a community? Can you predict by type of disaster, e.g. flood, hurricane, tornado, etc?

Robert Swan: We have developed a GIS model that uses the Corps of Engineer estimating model that can predict block data. Our best estimating is for hurricanes. However, we have data that can be equated to floods and tornadoes.


Avagene Moore: Are a lot of communities doing this type of planning now? Or is it one of those things that disaster experience drives?

Robert Swan: We would like to see more communities do prior planning. We have initiated information training through project impact. We are also getting ready to develop a plan for Harris County , TX as a subconsultant.


Rick Tobin: What about mixed debris fields, like avalanches? Does the model address that (snow removal)?

Robert Swan: No. I think that an avalanche would be handled like a landslide. I would like to direct your attention to the format of the debris management plan. The plan becomes a coordinating document. There are many departments and agencies involved with debris cleanup than most people know. Unfortunately, they show up after the event.


Jeff Hartle: Is the Corps of Engineers' estimating model available to planners. Maybe even on the web?

Robert Swan: Yes, you can get a copy by e-mailing me. It is not automated.

Jeff Hartle: Great! Thanks!

Robert Swan: Information is also available from state training officers in the Debris Management Course.


Amy Sebring: Robert, would you go ahead and put up your email address please?

Robert Swan: <[email protected]>.


Terry Storer: How "deep" should your plan go? Would you address the need to handle the bio/chem contaminated debris as a primary function or would it be addressed on a "freelance" basis?

Robert Swan: We focus on household hazardous waste. However, if there is a threat from more dangerous chemicals, then that should be coordinated with EPA.


Jon Kavanagh: I recently completed this program, and it is amazing how we don't typically think about having to deal with debris. It is also important that the Department of Public Works be involved with EM. Communication between *all* agencies within the city is essential!

Robert Swan: That is correct.

Jon Kavanagh: Having pre-arranged contracts is essential, because unless you're LA and you get a small incident, in-house crews won't be able to handle too much.

Robert Swan: Agree. Pre-positioned contracts allow you to have control over the contractors and plan before the event. Also, keeps costs under control. We are available to present more detailed training to anyone interested.


David Crews: Have you done planning relating to debris problems caused by earthquakes?

Robert Swan: We discuss the problem that came out of the Northridge earthquake during the course. There is a HAZUS model that will help predict debris from an earthquake.


Terry Storer: Your plan should not minimize the long-term effects of the debris storage. We are still being called to fires at our yard waste disposal area.

Robert Swan: You are concerned with Construction and Demolition materials and should be able to consider recycling options. What type of debris? Debris should be kept at a temporary site only for volume reduction purposes.


Amy Sebring: Have you seen the emphasis on recycling some of these materials increase over the years? It seems to make good sense to me.

Robert Swan: Yes. Landfill space is critical. Therefore, volume reduction is critical.

As I said earlier, use burning, grinding, and recycling to reduce volume.


Jeff Hartle: Last year at IAEM, you discussed separation of materials. How should they be separated?

Robert Swan: Debris should be separated at the curb: woody debris, metals, white goods. Garbage should not enter the debris stream.


Amy Sebring: White goods = ?

Robert Swan: Refrigerators, stoves.

Amy Sebring: Ah, thank you.

Robert Swan: Contractors should be monitored to ensure they pick up materials and not mix them.


Amy Sebring: And household hazardous waste is handled separately, I assume?

Robert Swan: Yes. There should be a separate contract for HHW.


Rick Tobin: Does the model consider livestock carcasses as part of the debris removal and handling operations? It is finally being recognized as a major impact in rural communities (like recently in Hurricane Floyd).

Chris Buckner: Bob, Don't forget about CFC capture from appliances.

Robert Swan: No. This is an area that is not normally considered as debris. North Carolina was a special case. Department of Agriculture gets involved, normally not FEMA.


Amy Sebring: Or Health Dept?

Robert Swan: Yes.


Isabel McCurdy: Where can one obtain the HAZUS model?

Robert Swan: I think it is available from FEMA. Check their web site.

[See: HAZUS home page: http://www.fema.gov/hazus/index.htm and order info: http://www.fema.gov/hazus/hazus6b.htm.]


Amy Sebring: We have done a pre-positioned contract for debris removal here in Corpus Christi. I believe it was activated for Hurricane Bret. Since I was not here, I am not sure how it went, but I hope to find out ! Bob, it seems that FEMA is fairly generous with emergency declarations to cover debris removal, even at 100%? Even if an area does not qualify for other forms of assistance.

Robert Swan: Debris will probably not be at 100% anymore. More like 25/75. Remember, FEMA only reimburses for reasonable costs associated with the Public Assistance Program. We are involved with extensive debris training of FEMA staff now.

Will be in Harrisburg this weekend and Fl next week.


Jeff Hartle: If the community has no public trash collection, how do you convince local government to be responsible for debris?

Robert Swan: Public pressure will require the community to obtain contractors.

Jeff Hartle: I remember driving through coastal South Carolina 3 years after Hugo and still seeing huge piles of debris!

Robert Swan: Sometimes, FEMA will give the COE a mission assignment to remove debris. They will then obtain local or national contractors to remove the debris. The cost share will still apply.


Amy Sebring: Bob, have you seen examples where a good PIO made a difference in obtaining public cooperation?

Robert Swan: It is extremely important to have a PIO on the staff. Information on pick up schedules, dump sites, etc must be provided to the public.


Merrilee White: Do you feel that large numbers of volunteers are a help or a hindrance?

Robert Swan: If planned, for a great help; if not, causes some delays.


Merrilee White: Is there some way local volunteer centers can get involved in the planning of the use of volunteers?

Robert Swan: Need to contact the local emergency planners. Volunteers have a place in debris removal. They can assist by removing material from private property for elderly.

Amy Sebring: That's a little off topic, although a good question for another session!

We are just about out of time. Thank you very much, Bob, and thank you, audience for your participation. Please stand by while we go to Avagene for upcoming events.

[Upcoming Events]

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy.

Next Tuesday's Round Table will be conducted by EIIP Partner, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). Karen Franklin, GEMA State School Safety Coordinator, will present "Emergency Management in the School Setting -- Georgia Style." With so much talk and press about school safety and events that have occurred this past year, I believe you will find the GEMA session of great interest next Tuesday, November 9, 12 Noon EST.

On Wednesday, November 10, 12 Noon Eastern, we have scheduled a session entitled "Impact of Emergencies and Disasters on the African-American Community." Kay Goss, CEM, Associate Director, FEMA Preparedness Directorate, and Dr. Oliver Jones, Professor of Political Science, Florida A & M University, will be our special guests. Please plan to participate in both sessions next week.

That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene. Pledge drive status: still at 81. Need your help in finishing this up. See <http://www.emforum.org/eiip/plege.htm> for more info. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are invited to remain for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks.