Lesson 2: Debris Management Plan Overview

This lesson identifies key debris management planning concepts. This lesson includes the following topics:

  • Impact of disaster debris
  • Types of debris
  • Debris management plan overview
  • Importance of a debris management plan
  • Elements of a debris management plan
Debris Generating Disasters Video Transcript

There are many types of debris generating disasters and each has common debris types.

Hurricanes are characterized by high velocity winds sometimes exceeding 155 miles per hour, storm surge, wave action, and inland flooding. Significant damage may occur to buildings, utilities, roadways, and vegetation, generating large quantities of all types of debris.

Tornadoes are characterized by high velocity winds, sometimes up to 300 miles per hour, with a narrow path of impact that can extend many miles. Significant quantities of building and vegetative debris is typically mixed and widely scattered.

Flash Floods are characterized by high velocity flows, structural damage, and erosion. Debris is typically mixed.

Riverine Floods are characterized by the slow rise and fall of water elevation over a period of time, inundation of nearby land, and depositing of large amounts of sediment. All types of debris may be generated as flood waters rise and fall and debris collection may extend for long periods of time.

Earthquakes are characterized by shockwaves, movement along fault lines, and aftershocks., sometimes for days or weeks. Debris will be generated from damaged buildings, infrastructure, equipment, and personal belongings. Vegetative debris, boulders, and sediment may result from landslides.

Wildfires are characterized by extensive burn areas and may be accompanied by landslides. Wildfires can generate a significant amount of mixed debris in developed areas.

Ice Storms are characterized by significant accumulation of ice and snow resulting in damage to structures, utilities, and especially to vegetation.

Tsunamis are characterized by forceful, fast-moving, surging and retreating water in coastal areas following earthquakes. Receding waters may pull back debris and severely impact marine areas.

Volcanoes are characterized by explosive, molten lava and ash which may be dispersed locally or over wide areas. Landslides and mudslides may also occur. Vegetative debris, boulders, mud, and structural debris often result from volcanoes.

Acts of Terrorism are characterized by random, unpredictable incidents that can produce conventional and unconventional debris. Debris clearance and removal may require extended periods of time due to crime scene investigations.

Types of Debris

Types of Debris

The various debris generating events create a wide range of debris types. Select the advance button to learn more about specific types of debris.

Vegetative debris consists of whole trees, tree stumps, tree branches, tree trunks, and other leafy material.

Soil, mud, and sand are often deposited by floods, landslides, and storm surges.

Sandbags used to protect against flooding may be contaminated with pollutants from flooded sewage treatment plants, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals.

Construction and demolition (C&D) material may include disaster- damaged building materials and damaged contents.

Utility system debris may include utility poles, wiring, conduit, and other items from power, telephone, cable TV, and other utilities.

Household furnishings and personal effects will become debris as a result in many disasters.

Household hazardous waste (HHW) includes paints, solvents, cleaning supplies, insecticides, pool chemicals, propane, gasoline, oils, and other residential chemicals. Electronic waste (e-waste) refers to hazardous materials in electronics, such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and batteries.

Hazardous waste is waste with properties that make it potentially harmful to human health or the environment. Hazardous waste is regulated under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In regulatory terms, a RCRA hazardous waste is a waste that appears on one of the four hazardous waste lists or exhibits at least one of the following four characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity. The State/Tribal environmental office and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide first response in the event of commercial, agricultural, industrial, or toxic waste spills.

Metal debris may include roofing, mobile homes, automobiles, and other ferrous materials. Some metals may be suitable for recycling.

White goods include washers, dryers, freezers, clothes dryers, and stoves. Any refrigerants in these materials must be removed by certified technicians.

Vessels and boats are unique types of debris in that their removal and disposal is the owners’ responsibility and must be coordinated by appropriate governing authorities.

Putrescent Debris such as carcasses of domestic and wild animals and decomposition of other fleshy organic matter present unique debris issues, especially after floods. Precautions should be taken in the removal and disposal of putrescent debris in order to address potential environmental and health issues.

Vehicles may become debris after many types of disasters. Removal and disposal of damaged vehicles is generally the owners’ responsibility.

Infectious waste is capable of causing infections in humans. Animal waste, human blood and blood products, medical waste, pathological waste, and discarded sharp objects are examples of infectious wastes. Clearance, removal, and disposal of these wastes may be the authority of Federal or State agencies.

What is a Debris Management Plan?
A debris management plan is a written document that establishes procedures and guidelines for managing disaster debris in a coordinated, environmentally-responsible, and cost-effective manner.
Importance of a Debris Management Plan (1 of 2)

An effective debris management plan:

  • Facilitates response and recovery activities
  • Facilitates the quick return of a community to normalcy
  • Reduces impacts to humans and the environment
  • Ensures effective use of resources
  • Helps to control and minimize costs
  • Aids in complying with applicable local, state/tribal/territorial, and Federal regulations
Importance of a Debris Management Plan (2 of 2)

The human, financial, environmental, and political costs associated with insufficient debris management planning can be devastating. 

  • Disaster debris can complicate and delay disaster response activities such as medical care, transportation of victims or relief teams, fire fighting, and provision of shelter, food, and water to disaster survivors. Facilitates the quick return of a community to normalcy.
  • Disaster debris can complicate and delay the short and long term recovery of the community and its return to normalcy.

In some disaster events, the amount of debris generated can be equivalent to years, if not decades, of normal solid waste production in the affected jurisdictions. Landfill capacities may be overwhelmed, roads may be damaged by debris hauling, debris may be disposed of without adequate controls, and the debris may present a general public health and safety hazard.

The lesson learned is that debris management planning is necessary and that it must be tailored to the specific needs of the jurisdiction.

Elements of a Debris Management Plan

A comprehensive debris management plan should address, at a minimum, the following elements :


Incident and assumptions

Debris collection and removal

Debris removal from private property

Public information

Health and safety requirements

Environmental considerations and other regulatory requirements

Temporary debris management sites and disposal locations

Force account or contract resources and procurement

Monitoring Debris Operations


  • Purpose of the DMP and its overarching goals
  • How the DMP was developed and who participated in the development
  • Whether the DMP is officially adopted by the governing body

Incidents and assumptions

  • Types and severity of incidents most likely to occur along with estimates of types of debris and amounts generated
  • Types of handling and equipment necessary to safely manage the debris
  • Description of general terrain, land use, and accessibility for areas most likely to be impacted and how these characteristics might affect debris operations

Debris collection and removal

  • Identify and prioritize facilities that may be impacted by debris
  • Define the priorities during both response and recovery operations
  • Describe the coordination process with other entities responsible for managing debris
  • Identify roles and responsibilities for all entities and departments involved
  • Describe the methods that will be used to collect debris (e.g., curbside collection, community drop-off bins)

Debris removal from private property – when it is in the public interest to remove debris from private property, the DMP should include:

  • Identification of the circumstances under which the jurisdiction will take such action
  • The enabling laws that allow government to intercede in private property matters
  • The process the jurisdiction will use to obtain permissions to enter onto private property
  • The process the jurisdiction will undertake to recoup costs (such as insurance proceeds)

Public information – the DMP should:

  • Identify the public information strategy to ensure residents receive accurate and timely information about the parameters, rules, and guidelines for debris removal

Health and safety requirements – the DMP should identify:

  • Specific details on safety rules and procedures to protect workers and the public
  • Specific measures for adherence to safety rules and procedures

Environmental considerations and other regulatory requirements 

  • Identify all debris operations that may trigger compliance with environmental and historic preservation laws, regulations, and Executive Orders
  • Identify how compliance will be achieved

Temporary debris management sites and disposal locations

  • Identify locations where debris will be segregated, reduced, and disposed and whether it will be recycled
  • Identify the potential permits that will be required to establish a facility
  • Address traffic circulation at each of the disposal sites, disposal capacity, and how debris will be managed if there is a lack of landfill capacity
  • Identify the final disposal site of whole, reduced, or recycled debris

Force account or contract resources and procurement

  • Identify the types of work that the jurisdiction will perform with staff resources versus contracted services
  • Describe the process and procedure for acquiring competitively procured contracted services
  • Identify specific contract requirements and explain how contractor qualifications are established

Monitoring debris operations

  • Include details as to how the jurisdiction will monitor its debris removal contractor at pickup sites and all disposal sites
  • Identify who will perform the monitoring and describe each monitoring task
  • Identify measures to avoid conflicts of interest in awarding monitoring contracts and between monitoring and debris removal contractors
It is important the plan addresses the above elements at a minimum. A jurisdiction may incorporate additional items that it determines to be necessary, such as a mission statement or preamble, citations of legal authority, plan maintenance information, and mitigation strategies designed to reduce the quantity of debris generated by a disaster. The plan content may be organized in whatever order and format that best suits the jurisdiction’s needs.
Lesson Summary
This lesson identified key debris management planning concepts. The following lessons will cover the process for developing a debris management plan and specific guidelines on debris management plan elements.