The On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) is the federal official responsible for monitoring or directing responses to all oil spills and hazardous substance releases reported to the federal government. The OSC coordinates all federal efforts with, and provides support and information to, local, state and regional response communities. The OSC is an agent of either EPA or the U.S. Coast Guard, depending on where the incident occurs. EPA OSCs have primary responsibility for spills and releases to inland areas and waters, while U.S. Coast Guard OSCs have responsibility for coastal waters and the Great Lakes. In general, the OSC has the following key responsibilities during and after a response to a hazardous substance release or an oil spill: (1) assessment; (2) monitoring; (3) response assistance; and (4) evaluation.
The OSC typically conducts assessment activities at the beginning of a response. Assessment involves evaluating the size and nature of a release or spill, its potential hazards, the resources needed to contain and clean it up, and the ability of the responsible party or local authorities to handle the incident. The results of the assessment are used to determine the need for personnel, equipment, and other resources to promptly and effectively combat the release.
Most releases or spills are small and are cleaned up by the responsible party or local response agencies. Monitoring comprises those activities taken to ensure that the actions taken to control and clean up a chemical release or oil spill are appropriate. Monitoring can be conducted from the site when necessary, or from an agency office if the situation appears to be under control. In the case of oil spills, the OSC is legally required to monitor the response if the spill poses a substantial threat to the health and welfare of the public due to its size or characteristics.
Once a release or spill has been assessed, the OSC determines whether federal assistance will be necessary to help control and contain it. If the OSC decides that federal assistance is required, the OSC will obtain needed resources such as personnel and equipment. If sufficient resources are not available for an incident, the OSC decides who pays and can secure federal funding either from the Superfund trust fund for hazardous substance releases or the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for oil spills. This assistance ensures that cleanup will not be hindered by a lack in availability of personnel or equipment on behalf of the local or state or responsible party resources.
Evaluating response actions provides information that is useful for designing or improving spill response plans. The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) requires that the OSC report all activities that take place during and after an incident. For example, following an oil spill, the OSC is required to file a summary report that outlines the actions taken to remedy the spill and the level of assistance provided by local, state, and federal agencies. These reports can be used to identify problem areas and can be shared with other agencies who may make recommendations for improvement.
For More Information
- EPA and the National Response Framework (NRF)
- The Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan
- Responding to an Incident
- Emergency Response Authorities
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA's) National Incident Management System
- Homeland Security Presidential Directives
- National Response System (NRS) Flowchart