Federal, State, and Local Cooperation
Together, EPA and state and local governments form an effective partnership at all points in the emergency response process as part of our country's National Response System, a multi-layered network of individuals and teams from local, state, and federal agencies, industry, and other response organizations.
The Superfund law grants the Emergency Response program and the Superfund program the authority to respond to hazardous substance emergencies. On the national level, the Superfund law distinguishes between short-term and long-term responses to threats posed by hazardous substances. Short-term responses address immediate threats to public health and the environment. These short-term national responses are primarily coordinated by the Emergency Response program. EPA differentiates among three types of emergency response alternatives according to the urgency of the situation, and the Emergency Response program ensures that all elements of the response system are ready to respond immediately to any hazardous substance emergency, wherever it occurs. Since its inception in 1980, the program has compiled an impressive record of accomplishments.
The Superfund Response program is primarily responsible for long-term responses, which involve complex and highly contaminated sites where it often requires several years to fully study the problem, develop a permanent remedy, and clean up the hazardous waste. As of August 1996, there were over 1200 Superfund sites undergoing some form of long-term cleanup. Together, the Superfund and the Emergency Response programs coordinate safe and effective response techniques for any type of hazardous substance emergency.
Sometimes, when an EPA On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) or other emergency responder comes to the scene of a hazardous substance release, he or she immediately knows that extra technical help will be needed. In these cases, additional support may come from several response teams established under the National Contingency Plan:
Environmental Response Team: The Environmental Response Team (ERT) is a group of EPA technical experts who provide around-the-clock assistance at the scene of hazardous substance releases, offering expertise in such areas as treatment, biology, chemistry, hydrology, geology, and engineering. The ERT can provide support to the full range of emergency response actions, including unusual or complex emergency incidents such as underwater releases.
National Response Team: The National Response Team (NRT) is an inter-agency group that provides guidance prior to an incident and, when requested, technical and financial assistance during an incident.
Regional Response Teams: Regional Response Teams (RRTs) also are interagency groups that consist of representatives from federal, state, and local governments. They conduct pre-response planning and preparedness activities, as well as coordinate and provide advice during response actions. The two principal components of the RRT are thirteen regional standing teams that provide region-wide support on communications, planning, coordination, training, evaluation, and preparedness, as well as incident-specific teams for which participation depends on the technical nature and location of the incident.
Individual states are members in their respective Regional Response Teams, which are established and maintained in the National Response System to provide On-Scene Coordinator (OSCs) with support and assistance in responses to release incidents at the Regional level. Prior to emergency incidents, EPA coordinates with states to ensure that state contingency plans are consistent with what was accomplished through national and regional contingency planning.
Local responders have, perhaps, the most vital role in the National Response System. Because firefighters and local police are usually the first responders at the scene of an incident, they are the first to assess the situation, identify the hazards, and take emergency measures, such as fighting a fire, securing the area, or re-routing traffic. Their assessment and initial activities help the EPA OSC determine what EPA actions are necessary.
Thousands of state and local responders attend EPA training courses each year. EPA offers a wide range of technical and management courses designed to aid responders in identifying and implementing appropriate actions to eliminate the threats from hazardous substances. To help state and local governments cover the costs of their response activities, EPA offers financial support through two programs. For emergency response actions that don't require an immediate response, EPA may enter into a Superfund State Contract or a Cooperative Agreement with a state to undertake a state-lead response action. These agreements enable the states to use funds from the Superfund trust fund to pay for the cleanup.