Organize Your Community

Contact the Chemical Hazards Program to assist you with organizing a Community Advisory Group (CAG). A CAG is a panel of interested and/or affected persons who live near a hazardous waste site and will voice the concerns and education needs of the broader community. In addition, the CAG will provide advice and guidance to state, local, and federal agencies, elected officials, and other community leaders. CAG meetings will provide a forum for sharing information about site/facility activities, and formulating strategies and programs to meet the community's needs. There are several elements to consider when organizing a CAG:

1. Representation

The most important participants are the affected community residents or their representatives. Other important participants are residents who have displayed interest and involvement in the issues of concern, even if they are not directly affected. To ensure the development of a truly representative group of community members, consider geographic representation, professional diversity, income range, age, sex, race, and level of formal education. Identify leaders in the community and possible target populations that they may represent. Suggested sources for representatives include:

  • Medical community
  • School systems
  • Emergency response (police, fire) departments
  • Clergy/religious organizations
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Unions
  • Environmental activist groups
  • Special interest groups/charitable organizations
  • Political organizations

2. Size

In selecting members for the CAG, it is crucial to reach a balance between involving all persons interested in and knowledgeable about the issues, and maintaining a workable group that can function effectively. Given the need to have a representative group, in most cases the CAG will need to have at least 12 members, although in some small communities, advisory groups with fewer members have been effective. The CAG should have no more than 15 members.

3. Selecting and Orienting CAG Members

In an initial meeting, CAG members should determine a decision-making process (e.g., majority or consensus), meeting frequency, attendance requirements, and administrative and substantive responsibilities. Meetings should be held in a neutral location, convenient to all members. A member should be selected to take notes during the meeting so discussion can be documented.

4. Involving the Media

The media play a critical role in setting agendas and in determining outcomes. Prepare in advance and provide background material on the issues. Do not hesitate to follow up on stories with praise or criticism, as warranted. Try to establish long-term relationships of trust with specific editors and reporters. Respect deadlines.

5. Involving Agencies, Elected Officials, and Community Leaders

Compile the names and addresses of official contacts and send meeting notices and invitations to speak as far in advance as possible. Take time to coordinate all group communications, possibly though a spokesperson. Use credible and authoritative intermediaries. Devote effort and resources to the slow, hard work of building bridges with officials.