Waste Management and our team members across the U.S. and Canada provide essential services to tens of thousands of communities, businesses and organizations daily.
Over the years, we’ve dealt with many kinds of service disruptions: hurricanes, super storms, floods, fires, earthquakes and now pandemics, each requiring unique preparations associated with our planning and response to ensure a swift recovery.
In a time of crisis or disaster, garbage, debris and recycling collection are central to a community’s recovery and rebuilding. To mitigate the impact of emergency events, and to speed up recovery, Waste Management has established national strategies and support systems to assist local operations. For example, Waste Management has identified qualified drivers and other workers to support local teams when crisis events occur. This group of professional employees has experience working in a variety of situations, including natural disasters, labor disruptions and other events that impact normal operations. We have pre-identified staff, called the WM Green Team, prepared to deploy after disasters or storm events
Step-by-step guidance prepares our teams to respond safely and quickly to emergency events. Each year, we review and update our disaster management plans, building on what we learn to improve our response.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for detailed plans for every type of disruption. In this case, deploying a team of drivers and workers to travel to affected areas was not feasible. Our planning efforts allowed for adjusting our services to meet our customers’ and communities’ needs. Thanks to our quick and decisive response, we kept drivers on the road and customer service agents answering phones, to provide safe, environmental services to customers and to ensure that we provided essential feedstock to paper mills that rely on our recyclables to manufacture the packages necessary for medical and grocery supplies. Learn more about Waste Management’s ongoing response to COVID-19.
Regardless of the type of event, we are committed to a set of overarching practices: We take care of our employees first. When employees and their families are safe, we can help our customers recover sooner. We are also committed to communicating clearly and consistently, with employees and customers, before, during and after a disaster.
While we may not be able to predict when or where natural disasters will occur, there is plenty we can do to prepare. Our goal is to remain ready to respond to these events as we always have, thanks to our employees’ professionalism and compassion for one another and the communities in which they live.
For some natural disasters, weather forecasts provide critical warning time to prepare. Major hurricanes in 2018 and 2019, most notably Hurricane Michael, required dedicated efforts by a team of experts to protect employees, safeguard trucks and facilities, and bring in supplies after storms passed.
When Michael devastated a large swath of the southern U.S. in October 2018, Waste Management was one of the first responders, delivering roll-off containers to essential businesses and utilities, local hospitals, grocery stores and shelters. We deployed a Green Team of approximately 30 employees who assisted with relief efforts, including driving vehicles, cleaning up debris and preparing meals. Beyond the internal cleanup and recovery process, Waste Management prioritized communicating our operational status to our customers through every available medium.
Compared with the tropical storms that affect the eastern and southern U.S., the fires that occur with increasing frequency in the western U.S. and Canada require very different preparation and response. Our fire-related communication plans, response and recovery efforts are increasingly tested.
In November of 2018, Waste Management’s Simi Valley Landfill worked with their employees and the deployed WM Green Team to handle debris from the Woolsey Fire, which burned in California’s Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We made upgrades at the facility to accommodate the increased volume, including expanding our staff, adding equipment and renting electronic signage and lights to allow the site to run extended hours while enhancing safety. Over a five-month period, we accepted more than 362,000 tons of fire debris and recycled more than 6,000 tons of scrap metal.
The Camp Fire ignited in Paradise, California, the same day as the Woolsey Fire. While Waste Management does not provide service to the Paradise community, we have extensive operations throughout the surrounding area, so many of our employees, customers and business units in the region were affected. Because the containment of the fire was uncertain, our procurement staff worked to ensure operating units in the affected areas had the necessary masks, water and other critical supplies.
In the wake of the fire, 15 Waste Management employees were displaced from their homes. We secured relief for them in the form of hotel rooms, rental cars, clothing allowances and meals as well as grants from the Waste Management Employees Care Fund. Waste Management even organized a catered Thanksgiving dinner at a community center so that employees and their families could celebrate together, despite the upheaval.
Once the cleanup process began, WM Green Team members from across the country assisted with hauling and post-collection operations. Our landfill in Anderson, California, received nearly 2 million tons of fire debris over nine months. We also helped relief efforts through donations to a local Habitat for Humanity chapter, community center and library as they began the long process of rebuilding. Although both events occurred in 2018, the response and impacts were felt well into 2019 and beyond.
Power blackouts during “fire season” have become a part of life in California. These outages impact our operations and our ability to communicate with our drivers and customers. Now, we require backup generators and call centers to maintain service continuity across the state.