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Pesticide Emergencies: Contingency Planning

Frederick M. Fishel

The purpose of contingency planning is to prevent an emergency situation from becoming a catastrophic event. This document provides insight on how to develop a contingency plan for addressing emergencies where pesticides are involved.


An emergency response plan can help protect the health and welfare of employees and the community, minimize environmental damage, and potentially reduce liability in the event of an accident. The importance of planning for emergencies cannot be overemphasized. Undertake this planning with painstaking attention.

Some emergencies require professional assistance (police, firefighters, paramedics, environmental contractors) while others may be handled by properly trained company employees. Personal injuries may range from minor cuts, treatable with a first-aid kit, to major injuries from exposure to toxic chemicals, which may require hospitalization.

Small fires often can be extinguished with a portable fire extinguisher, while larger ones require trained firefighters and possibly emergency medical assistance.

Some spills can be controlled and contained and the area cleaned, using spill kits kept on-site. It is important that all employees know exactly where spill kits, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits are stored.

A large, uncontained spill from a ruptured thousand-gallon pesticide tank would likely require a trained hazardous materials response team to control the release, evacuate the area, coordinate remedial measures, contain the spill, clean and decontaminate the site and dispose of contaminated waste.

Objectives of Contingency Planning

The objective of contingency planning is to prevent emergencies; but if they do occur, the objective becomes a matter of reacting appropriately to minimize detrimental effects. Both aspects—prevention and reaction—require a well-organized effort on the part of business owners and management personnel.

A contingency plan is only as good as the information it conveys to employees and emergency responders. It is useless if the only people who comprehend its intent and execution are those who wrote it. Employees must be educated to understand the purpose of the plan, and they must be trained to perform their assigned duties in an emergency situation, including knowing where to station employees at critical intersections to direct response vehicles.

It is essential that every employee and all emergency responders in the community be familiar with the plan. And it is equally important that the plan be updated on a regular basis to incorporate changes: phone numbers, new employees, new (company) emergency responders, new or reassigned position responsibilities, etc. A thorough review should be done at least annually, as should employee review and retraining.

Developing the Plan

Consider the following when developing a written emergency response plan:

  • Post a 24-hour number on the outside of all buildings so that emergency responders will know where to call if an emergency occurs when the business is closed and the premises vacant. Contacts should include

    • persons/agencies required to be notified by local, state, and federal requirements;

    • local emergency planning committees;

    • police and fire units;

    • paramedics and area hospitals;

    • appropriate chemical manufacturers and dealers;

    • containment and hazardous waste cleanup contractors;

    • your attorney, to protect your rights and the rights of others;

    • the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

  • Train all employees and document all training on

    • the location of the written emergency response plan;

    • the purpose and objectives of the plan;

    • implementing the plan;

    • who to contact in an emergency;

    • where to rendezvous following evacuation;

    • who should deal with and talk to the media;

    • who to notify if there is a failure in the plan.

  • Prepare a map of your facility to include with your emergency response plan (Table 3). Show a layout of all chemical storage buildings and bulk storage tanks, access roads, main shutoffs for electricity, water, and gas, perimeter fencing that could hinder access to the pesticide storage facility, the location of fire alarms, firefighting equipment, protective clothing, and drainage easements on the site. Provide emergency response agencies an updated copy of this map whenever changes are made at the facility (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Example of a facility map.
Figure 1.  Example of a facility map.
Credit: National Pesticide Applicator Certification Core Manual


  • Keep an inventory of emergency equipment and supplies you have available on site, including

    • the location and inventory of fire extinguishers and protective equipment;

    • equipment that can be used for diking, trenching, pumping, and vacuuming;

    • containment and cleanup materials, such as absorbent materials and neutralizing agents;

    • any specialized equipment, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus;

    • spill kits and their locations;

    • plugging materials and drain covers.

  • Personally deliver copies of the emergency response plan to local responders: fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, and emergency planning committees. Review the following with them:

    • who at the facility to contact in an emergency;

    • where employees are to rendezvous if evacuated;

    • types of chemicals stored on-site;

    • precise locations of chemical storage areas;

    • important listings on the site map;

    • what you and your staff should and should not do in an emergency;

    • what expectations you have; for example, a let-it-burn policy when outside assistance is requested;

    • the on-site location of the written plan; that is, where emergency responders can access it;

    • off-site locations where the plan is accessible.

  • Invite emergency responders to walk through your facility. Consider incorporating videos and photographs with the written plan and ask for suggestions to make the plan better; follow up on any recommendations they offer.

  • Update the emergency response plan annually and as changes occur.

  • Stage a mock accident or spill annually and critique the generated response.

  • Contact hospitals to see if they can treat patients for exposure to the chemicals you handle, and ask if they have decontamination capabilities. Hospitals are often overlooked when notifying local responders.

  • Spill recovery contractors play an essential role in follow-up operations related to a spill emergency. Select a reputable firm that you are comfortable with.

  • Consider filling out the sample forms and maps in Tables 1–8 to record the necessary information for developing an emergency response plan of your own.


To prepare for a pesticide emergency or incident, have a well-thought-out emergency response plan. Make sure the plan includes designating an emergency response coordinator, maintaining a list of emergency response agencies, preparing a map of the facility, keeping a current product inventory of the types and quantities of stored chemicals, knowing what emergency equipment and supplies are available, and what staff is necessary and trained to operate the equipment. Be sure all employees at the facility are familiar with the emergency response plan and know the sequence of actions to take in a crisis. Maintain regular training for all employees expected to help in an emergency situation.


Table 1. 

Sample form for keeping facility information current.

Table 2. 

County map with location of facility and routes.

Table 3. 

Facility site map marking structures and items of importance for emergencies.

Table 4. 

Evacuation map marking routes and rendezvous points.

Table 5. 

Chemical inventory (pesticides).

Table 6. 

Chemical inventory (fertilizers).

Table 7. 

Chemical inventory (fuels).

Table 8. 

Fire emergency response information sheet.


Publication #PI257

Date: 10/3/2018

  • Program Area: Integrated Pest Management
Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is PI257, one of a series of the Agronomy Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date December 2015. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Frederick M. Fishel, professor, Agronomy Department, and director, Pesticide Information Office; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Brett Bultemeier