Federal budget cuts from the Department of Homeland Security are forcing emergency officials around the country to scramble.
For years, emergency planners in 38 states, including North and South Carolina, have relied on a web-based program called E-Plan.
Businesses, particularly large plants and factories that use chemicals or hazardous materials, are required to report those materials to state and local officials every year.
That reporting tells emergency officials what chemicals are housed at a specific company, in what amounts and at which locations. It also allows them to get detailed information about the danger level of each substance. E-Plan has allowed businesses to do that reporting online. South Carolina embraced the program in 2008.
Now, the government has announced it will no longer fund the program after August. The annual cost to run E-Plan is about $1 million.
"I don't know why they're cutting it," said York County Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell. He called it big step backward.
"It's like we're going back from fighting fires with modern fire trucks and hoses, to carrying buckets," he said.
"Now they can go on their computer, they can put in the information. It's fill in the blank, and they hit the send button," Howell said.
Lancaster County emergency officials told Channel 9 that 36 businesses there usedE-Plan in 2012 to provide lists of the chemicals and hazardous materials they have on site.
More than 3,300 companies used the program statewide.
"I've come to rely on E-Plan. It makes my job much easier," said Patrick Helms, who's a planner with emergency management in Lancaster County.
Helms showed Channel 9 how quickly he could pull up the website for E-Plan on his phone.
"Before I was out of the parking lot, I was on the phone with the environmental hazard person for that company, and before I'd gotten a mile down the road I was able to contact the people on scene and let them know what the hazards were," he said.
When E-Plan ends, Helms and others will have to go back to a paper filing system. That means someone would have to be at the office during an emergency, find a specific company's file and relay that information to crews at the scene. It's much slower, and puts people at risk, Helms said.
Channel 9 contacted the Department of Homeland Security to ask about the plan to ax the program. The federal agency had not responded as of late Tuesday.
Local emergency officials are also concerned about efforts to keep E-Plan going by passing the cost on to the businesses that use it. Howell feels that if that happens, many will choose not to report at all, leaving first responders without vital information they may need on an emergency call.
Howell said there is a major national effort among emergency management officials to push for continued funding of E-Plan. The program is set to end Aug. 31.