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Home arrow Historic Preservation Programs & Officers arrow Federal arrow Multiagency: National Contingency Plan Introduction arrow Emergency Response Under the NCP
Emergency Response Under the National Contigency Plan

How does the United States respond when there is a hazardous substances release or an oil spill?

Federal law directs the President to ensure removal of a discharge of oil or hazardous substances. Implementing Executive Orders and regulations delegate this responsibility to the U.S. Coast Guard for coastal areas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for inland areas. Each agency has On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) who coordinate and direct emergency efforts by government at all levels to clean up such discharges.

Emergency response actions by OSCs are governed by the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP), which sets the following national response priorities: safety of human life; stabilizing the situation to preclude the event from worsening; and containing and/or removing the spilled or released material to minimize impacts on the environment.

Although OSCs are "in charge" of response, Federal law places primary clean-up responsibility on the Responsible Party—the owner or operator of the facility or vessel from which the spill or release occurred. Further, under the NCP, OSCs work cooperatively with other Federal as well as State and local agencies with jurisdiction over or expertise in specific response activities. These parties collectively form the National Response System.

What is the National Response System?

The NRS is the mechanism for coordinating response actions by all levels of government in support of the OSC during an emergency pollution response. In addition to OSCs, it consists of:

  • The Area Committee, including representatives from Federal, State, and local governments, which assists the OSC in preparing for emergency response through development of an Area Contingency Plan (ACP);
  • The Regional Response Team (RRT), including Federal and State agency representatives, which assists the OSC in planning, preparedness, and coordination at a regional level;
  • The National Response Team (NRT), including 16 Federal agencies, which assists the RRTs and the OSC in planning, preparedness, and coordination at a national level; and
  • Scientific, technical, and other specialized support entities from various Federal agencies.

How does the U.S. prepare for emergency response?

Planning and exercises are the primary emergency preparedness activities. Federal law requires preparation of an Area Contingency Plan (ACP) by the OSC in consultation with appropriate Federal, State, and local government representatives. The ACP describes what needs to be protected in the event of an emergency, the response structure that will be used in an emergency, and what resources are available to respond. The ACP is exercised every three years. Federal law also requires owners and operators of vessels and facilities that could be the source of an oil spill or hazardous substance release to prepare and regularly exercise emergency response plans.

Click here for the Programmatic Agreement on Protection of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.

Updated November 18, 2008

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