Maintaining Response Readiness
Because a hazardous substance release or an oil spill could occur virtually anywhere and at any time, EPA and a network of federal, state, and local responders stand ready 24 hours a day to contain and clean-up the discharged oil and released chemicals. EPA's Emergency Response program has a leadership role in this National Response System that promotes coordinated emergency response actions and guarantees the availability of resources to cover all possible release scenarios. This coordination allows federal, state, and local agencies to work together to respond to all emergencies efficiently. EPA also provides other financial and technical support as needed to assist local communities in responding to the broad range of emergency response incidents that may occur.
One of EPA's major tasks is to coordinate contingency planning efforts with other agencies to ensure that emergency responses are carried out quickly and with maximum effectiveness. To further ensure the readiness of its response teams, EPA provides training to emergency responders so that they have the necessary skills and use appropriate precautions when undertaking emergency response measures.
Contingency plans describe the information and processes for responding to hazardous substance emergencies, including the roles and responsibilities of the different responding agencies, the location and availability of response resources, the process for conducting the response, and other actions necessary to ensure a safe and effective cleanup. When used properly by trained personnel, a well-designed contingency plan enables response efforts to proceed smoothly and effectively, minimizes danger to cleanup personnel, reduces overall costs of cleanup by avoiding unnecessary effort, and ensures the protection of human health and the environment. Because the approaches and methods for responding to releases are constantly evolving, contingency plans also are constantly evolving and improving.
A network of contingency plans with different levels of geographical scope form the backbone of our country's efforts to prepare for and coordinate responses to emergency incidents:
- The National Contingency Plan Overview (National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan - 40 CFR Part 300) is the federal government's primary plan for preparing for, and coordinating with, other emergency responders. The National Contingency Plan establishes the principles and structure of the unified command system and identifies the roles and responsibilities of the key players within the system.
- The federal government also prepares Regional and Area Contingency Plans that coordinate effective responses within each of the 10 standard federal regions and other designated Areas covering Alaska, the Caribbean, and several islands in the Pacific. These plans include preparedness information on a regional level and identify useful response facilities and resources available from government, commercial, academic, and other sources.
- At the local level, Local Contingency Plans are developed to prepare and organize local resources in the event of the accidental release of hazardous substances. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), state governors are required to establish State Emergency Response Commissions, which in turn establish Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) for districts within the state. These emergency planning organizations are responsible for developing local contingency plans using chemical inventory information collected as part of the law's community right-to-know provisions.
- Federal on-scene coordinators, who are the federal government's frontline staff during an incident, may develop an On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) Contingency Plan for responses in the OSC's area of responsibility. These plans identify probable locations of releases, the availability and location of emergency response resources, and the local structure for responding to release incidents.
Taken together, these activities and resources form the cornerstone of our country's ability to respond to hazardous substance emergencies regardless of their nature, size, or location.