2.1 Response Organization

2.1.1 Response to Public Safety and Property Caused by Spills

When a spill poses public safety and property threats via potential fires, explosions, toxic clouds, or other means, local officials are usually in command of the incident. The party responsible for the incident is required to cooperate with and aid the local police and fire agencies. At some facilities, the responsible party conducts the response; at other facilities and in transportation incidents where the responsible party may not have the specialized capability to address an incident, public agencies direct the response. If highly specialized activities such as off-loading tank cars or repackaging hazardous chemicals are required, the responsible party may implement the actions under the general direction of the local public safety commander.

In most States, the role of State agencies in public safety response during the early stages of an incident is to provide technical advice to local commanders as soon as possible. For spills occurring within an Indian reservation, the Tribe may be the primary responder for incidents at which an RP fails to act, or the Tribe may rely on local or State responders by prior agreement. During major incidents, State and Federal authorities may be able to provide additional assistance to the local commander at the spill scene by

  • conducting sampling and analysis of chemicals,
  • providing specialized contractors or equipment, or
  • providing detailed advice or other supporting functions.

Seldom will State or Federal authorities assume command from a local fire or police commander for short-term, on-site, public-safety-related issues.


2.1.2 Response to Environmental and Health Threats Caused by Spills

A number of State and Federal programs require parties who are responsible for a spill to investigate and remedy all related environmental and health threats. Often these actions include activities on properties owned by third parties or public agencies. The actions usually begin somewhat later than the public safety protection response, but can continue for a much longer period. The actions may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • placing containment and recovery booms and pads,
  • sampling runoff and rivers,
  • excavating soil,
  • sampling smoke,
  • performing hydrogeological investigations,
  • wildlife rescue and rehabilitation,
  • closing drinking water intakes, and
  • providing an alternate water supply.

Sometimes an RP is unable or unwilling to adequately or quickly undertake the environmental and health protection actions required by State or Federal authorities. In those cases, State or Federal authorities can assume a more direct role. Usually this is done through investigation or cleanup contractors using governmental funds, such as State or Federal Superfunds or the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF). The costs of these direct government actions will usually be recovered later from the responsible party. The decision to assume governmental control of environmental and health follow-up of an incident is dependent on

  • the ability and willingness of the responsible party to respond effectively,
  • the severity of the incident,
  • the cost and duration of required actions, and
  • the resources available to the various levels of government.