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ATLANTA (September 7, 2022) — A project team comprised of members from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Imani Group – a local Grassroots Environmental Justice (EJ) Organization based in Aiken, SC, and consultants recently developed and hosted a series of workshops in two rural communities in close proximity to the Savanah River Site.

“EPA recognized communities surrounding the Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC and Plant Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Waynesboro, GA lacked adequate emergency preparedness training or even a basic understanding of what resources were available to them during an emergency or natural disaster,” said Senior Environmental Protection Specialist Kyle Bryant. “The workshops helped to identify strategies to reduce exposure and increase resilience to these hazards.”

The workshops focused on community resilience and emergency preparedness for faith-based and community leaders, who received training on the EPA’s Equitable Resilience Builder tool. The Equitable Resilience Builder (ERB) tool has been developed to help community members identify their most pressing vulnerabilities to a wide range of hazards and identify strategies to increase, reduce exposure and resilience to these hazards.

The ERB is designed to uplift and employ local knowledge and experience, utilizing techniques such as storytelling, mapping, social vulnerability analyses, and co-production. This unique and innovative capacity building approach was offered in two settings to accommodate participants throughout the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA).

Those sites were Waynesboro (Burke County), Ga. and Blackville (Barnwell County), SC. Through participation in this training, both historically underserved communities further demonstrated that they recognize the inequitable distribution of critical resources before, during, and after a natural disaster. Therefore, they must take deliberate steps to ensure their safety until assistance arrives. 

Over the course of two, 4-hour workshops, participants received training on:  

  • A suite of tools and methods to build equitable climate resilience in their communities; and 
  • FEMA emergency preparedness and management techniques and how to serve as an emergency preparedness leader in their congregations.  

Participants identified a range of issues related to emergency preparedness including drinking water quality concerns; water supply issues in rural areas; severe and unpredictable storms especially those that are less predictable than hurricanes; and mental health and trauma, particularly in youth.

Together, participants also helped co-develop faith and community-based environmental justice, emergency preparedness, emergency response and climate resilience strategies and initiatives that can be implemented in the wider CSRA. As a direct result of this training, one local partnership has already been initiated. The Project Team and participants are now seeking other funding opportunities to further support community preparedness and resilience and to replicate this process in other Georgia and South Carolina communities up and down the Savannah River corridor.

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