Severe Weather Preparedness & Emergency Debris Management

For Localities
For Solid Waste Management Facilities
For Homeowners

Hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, and other storm events can result in large amounts of debris and other solid wastes that need to be managed properly.  Preparations before storm events by localities, solid waste management facilities, homeowners and businesses will improve recovery efforts and expedite restoration of normal services.  DEQ has developed the following information to assist the public with solid waste issues associated with storm events.

For Localities

Local governments are responsible for developing and maintaining Local Emergency Operations Plans, which should include a section on Debris Management.  Following storm events, the public will want to start cleaning up debris as soon as possible.  Making decisions ahead-of-time about how your locality or planning unit intends to collect and manage various types of waste will reduce delays in response and recovery efforts, minimize misinformation to the public, and maximize potential for reimbursement from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance programs. Guidance for developing Debris Management Plans is located in FEMA’s Debris Management Plan Workshop Student Handbook.

Debris Management Plans should be developed prior to a storm event to identify:

  • Staff roles and responsibilities,
  • Waste and debris collection methods (curbside pickup, citizen drop-off, etc.),
  • Potential locations for emergency debris management sites,
  • Waste management options (reuse, recycle, mulch, compost, landfill, etc.),
  • Resources needed (such as heavy equipment, fuel, or additional staff) v. availability,
  • Contracted services for cleanup and monitoring,
  • Special procedures for private property demolition and debris removal, and
  • Plans for communicating information to the public.

If your locality does not have a debris management plan when disaster strikes, use DEQ’s Debris Management Planning Job Aid to help you answer key questions in order to initiate debris removal activities.  This job aid is not intended to replace the more thorough planning process required to develop a formal debris management plan, but is instead for your use during real-time disaster response and recovery situations.  Local governments with approved Debris Management Plans in place prior to incidents requiring debris removal could receive higher reimbursement rates through FEMA Public Assistance programs.

If your locality intends to manage storm-related solid wastes (such as household waste, white goods, construction/demolition debris, etc.) at a temporary debris management site, then you will need to obtain an emergency permit from DEQ.  An emergency permit is not necessary for sites that will only manage vegetative waste (such as trees, branches, shrubs, leaves, stumps, roots, and other clean wood waste).  DEQ can pre-certify an emergency debris management site prior to a storm event, which will expedite the emergency permitting process and facilitate earlier mobilization. More information on the permitting process and the Emergency Debris Waste Pile Permit Application is located on our Solid Waste Emergency Permit page. To request an emergency permit, or if you have additional questions, contact your regional DEQ solid waste permit writer.

For Solid Waste Management Facilities

The DEQ strongly urges landfills and other facilities to PUMP DOWN ALL LEACHATE STORAGE TANKS AND LAGOONS in anticipation of storm events to provide sufficient surge capacity (i.e. freeboard) to handle increased leachate volumes generated by excess precipitation. Landfills should COVER ALL EXPOSED WASTE WITH COMPACTED SOIL COVER (instead of tarps or other types of alternate daily cover) to avoid wind-blown debris from the working face.

Other actions that solid waste management facilities can take include the following:

  • Decide how to notify staff and the public of emergency conditions or facility closures (e.g. phone tree, text alerts, website postings, social media updates, etc.)
  • Review, update, and distribute emergency contact information
  • Conduct staff briefing to review contingency plans and discuss protocols for facility or area evacuation, power failure, loss of communications, and other emergencies
  • Have emergency and backup equipment (generators, fuel, stone, pumps, vehicles, heavy equipment, lighting, fire suppressants, etc.) on hand before the storm and staged in areas that are not vulnerable to flooding, downed trees or power lines
  • Cover open dumpsters and secure litter fences, portable equipment, waste piles, and other stockpiled materials that could be blown around
  • Clear stormwater conveyance channels, sediment traps, and sediment ponds to ensure adequate capacity and performance as designed
  • Improve landfill cover systems to maintain positive drainage and avoid ponding or infiltration of water
  • Prepare facility roads (e.g. lay down additional gravel, etc.) to ensure routes will be passable by both ordinary vehicles and heavy equipment after the storm
  • Schedule household hazardous waste collection events prior to storm seasons

After the storm:

  • Inspect major components of facility operations to identify and repair any damage
  • Notify DEQ if temporary tonnage increases or extended operating hours are expected
  • Monitor landfill leachate levels to maintain less than 30 cm (12 in) head on bottom liner
  • Report to DEQ (within 24 hours and 5 days in writing) any noncompliance or unusual conditions that may endanger health or environment, such as:
    • unauthorized discharges of leachate, washwater, or other pollutant to surface water
    • leachate accumulations outside the lined waste disposal area or in a sediment basin
    • damage to gas or groundwater monitoring or remediation system components
    • interruptions to facility operations requiring diversion of waste to another facility
  • Document emergency conditions and facility responses through photos, checklists, etc.

For Homeowners

Immediately report to your local emergency services and utility companies any potential safety hazards such as leaking gas lines, downed power lines, and overturned or leaking heating oil tanks.

Find out how your locality will be collecting different types of waste and debris. This type of information is usually found on local government websites, social media, and other news outlets. Typical services include curbside collection or public drop-off locations at convenience centers, landfills, transfer stations, or a temporary debris management site. If you use private waste collection services, please check with them for specific guidelines.

To facilitate appropriate management, DEQ recommends separating your waste by type:

  • Vegetative waste (trees, branches, shrubs, leaves, stumps and other clean wood waste)
  • Household hazardous waste (such as used oil, batteries, paint, pesticides, or solvents)
  • Household waste (bagged trash, garbage, spoiled food, etc.)
  • Electronics or e-waste (TVs, computers, tablets, cell phones and similar)
  • White goods (refrigerators, stoves, washers, hot water heaters, air conditioners, and other large appliances)

Avoid placing waste piles in areas that will block roadways, signs, fire hydrants, or meters.

If you are unsure about collection of a particular waste, please call the solid waste management facility or drop-off site before you arrive, or call your locality (or private waste collection service) before you place the waste at the curb.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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