Contingency Planning Network
Because the impacts of an oil spill can vary widely, from isolated incidents that are contained on-site by facility response personnel to incidents that impact human health and the environment on local, regional, national, and even international scales, contingency plans are developed to address the specific geographic scope of the incident. Such plans enable responders to address the full extent of the problem by helping to identify and coordinate the activities of the different government agencies and private organizations that need to be notified and involved in the response.
Under our current national emergency response infrastructure for oil spills, planning occurs on four basic levels: facility, local, area, and national. In the event of an oil spill, the Facility Response Plan is immediately activated. Local, area, or regional plans may also be put into motion, depending on the nature of the spill. And for those rare spills that require a national response, the National Contingency Plan (NCP) is activated, bringing the collective expertise and capabilities of the 16 federal agencies together to contain and clean up the release or spill. The NCP differs somewhat from the other types of contingency plans in that it provides the framework for our National Response System, and the way in which the different levels of responding organizations coordinate their efforts.
EPA has established regulations that define who must prepare Facility Response Plans and what must be included in their plans. In some cases, EPA's involvement also includes the review and approval of the facility plans. According to the Oil Pollution Act passed by Congress in 1990, certain facilities that store and use oil are required to prepare plans to respond to a worst-case discharge of oil. The Oil Pollution Act also sets specific requirements for the development of such plans. In response, EPA developed regulations in 1994 that implement the facility response planning requirements of the Oil Pollution Act in a flexible manner so that facility owners and operators are not required to create a new response plan if they have an existing plan.
Area plans are often brought into action when facilities are unable to handle spills on their own. Under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, EPA initially established 13 Areas covering the U.S. and convened Area Committees comprised of federal, state, and local government agencies to prepare contingency plans for the designated areas. The Area Contingency Plans include detailed information about resources (such as equipment and trained response personnel) available from the government agencies in the Area. They also describe the roles and responsibilities of each responding agency during a spill incident, and how the agencies will respond if they are called upon in an emergency. These plans also describe how two or more Areas might interact, such as when a spill occurs in a river that flows between Areas, to assure that a spill is controlled and cleaned up in a timely and safe manner.