On May 6, 1951, an explosion occurred at the Polymer Corporation Plant in Sarnia that could be seen from 150km away. Public onlookers gathered at the site fence, impeded first responders, and exposed themselves to the release. Within three days of the incident, the Chemical Valley Emergency Traffic Control Committee was formed with a focus on providing emergency related information to the public in a quick and accurate manner. Within a year, the industry funded the creation of the Chemical Valley Emergency Control System that coordinated municipal fire, police, schools, businesses, and industry to collectively improve preparedness for industrial emergencies.
A new committee evolved for the development of best practices around emergency preparedness specifically for industrial firefighting. This group was called the Chemical Valley Fire Fighting Mutual Aid Committee.
The Fire and Traffic Committees came together to form the Chemical Valley Emergency Control Organization, commonly known as CVECO. By the 1980s, the second C was changed from “Control” to “Coordinating” to better reflect the intention of the organization.
The practices put in place because of the formation of these committees led to the Sarnia-Lambton area being recognized on a global scale for emergency response. Following the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in India because of a release of methyl isocyanate (MIC) in Bhopal, representatives from different agencies and companies from around the world visited Sarnia to engage with local industry and government leaders to benchmark community preparation in the event of a chemical emergency.
All plants across the Sarnia-Lambton area had established their own programs for community engagement and identified an opportunity to combine and centralize their resources to align on one common strategy for the region. This resulted in the formation of Sarnia-Lambton Community Awareness and Executive Response. By the end of 1986, the E in CAER was updated from Executive to Emergency. A new CAER Committee was created and supported by all members of the Lambton Industrial Society and local governments. The initial purpose of SL CAER was to:
- Maintain communication between industrial members ensuring awareness of individual corporate activities in the field of acute hazard awareness communication with the public.
- Maintain maximum credibility of information dissemination to the public by ensuring that the timing and content of corporate material avoids ambiguity and duplication to the degree possible, and that it conforms generally to the overall communication plan objectives and priorities.
- Prepare an ongoing plan of communications to the public in the areas of hazard identification and awareness, and personal response and protection.
Leaders from industrial sites in Sarnia were also leaders with the Canadian Chemical Producers Association (CCPA). Through this national organization, they launched Responsible Care®. The influence of LIS on the CCPA was clear in how a reference to “CAER” became as the first of the six Codes of Practice for Responsible Care®. In 1986, the municipality of Sarnia was awarded the CAER Achievement Award by the CCPA, signifying integrated industrial-community preparedness for an emergency.
Since 1986, Responsible Care® has been adopted by 96 of the 100 largest chemical producers in the world and is recognized by the United Nations as a model for sustainability. Responsible Care® is now administered through the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC). The SL CAER facilitates a regional approach to community notification using cutting edge internet technology, regional network of sirens, radio broadcast procedures, and defined traffic control measures. SL CAER coordinates highly complex regional emergency exercises that challenge both industry and government responders to coordinate notification, deployment, communication, response team coordination, specialized equipment and resource allocations, mutual aid, and emergency command. Members of SL CAER work to engage directly with the community to educate the public about industrial risks and steps required by residents surrounding facilities to properly prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. These efforts are supplemented by regular engagement with local school boards to create promotional and education events to heighten awareness using age appropriate messaging. SL CAER functions as a centralized bridge to industrial and government website information.