How NOAA Supports Oil Spill Exercises and Training Throughout Each Year

Posted Fri, 08/27/2021 - 16:12
By Brad Benggio, Office of Response and Restoration
A tv crew interviews a person on a beach.
Scientific Support Coordinator Bradford Benggio conducts News interview during oil spill exercise and boom deployment drill in Miami Florida.

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration supports exercises throughout the country each year. Many of these exercises are in coordination with or hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard and industry partners to meet preparedness and readiness requirements. These include Coast Guard PREP exercises for oil spill response, industry led exercises, chemical releases, hurricane responses, weapons of mass destruction, biochemical and terrorist scenarios and even international exercises. Our latest support was part of a National Response Team initiative with Panama called Eco Canal to provide coordinated support to the Panama Canal Authority for incidents.

Typically, OR&R’s Emergency Response Division supports 25 to 40 exercises each year with full exercise products, including spill trajectories, overflight maps, chemical data, modeling and analyses, resources at risk, weather tides and currents, shoreline oiling maps, common operating picture information management and geographical displays with the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA), and a host of other scenario-specific customized products. Additional exercises are usually supported at varying levels for industry-required drills or other response partner initiatives.

Just as in real incidents and responses, OR&R supports exercises by deploying one or more scientific support coordinators, with other specialized scientific support team members depending on the scenario and exercise objectives. Scientific support team members include oceanographers, biologists, data processors and managers, weather forecasters, natural resource damage assessment coordinators, and health and safety officers to name a few. At times the scientific support coordinator may work with experts outside of OR&R, either through other NOAA line offices, academia, or other state or federal organizations and industry to assemble the scientific and technical expertise to address the response or exercise needs.

Throughout the year, and especially prior to major exercises, OR&R will conduct training to prepare Coast Guard and other response partners. Training courses routinely offered include ERMA familiarization, Science of Oil Spills, Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT), overflight observation, and Science of Chemical Releases (SOCR). Additionally, OR&R routinely supports training for Federal On Scene Coordinator representative training, specific and specialized training for area committees and regional response teams around the country and a variety of funded workshops, summits, and training events to address specific response or planning initiatives. In the past these have included seafood safety, hurricane preparation and response, training for federally mandated consultations related to the Endangered species Act, Essential Fish Habitat, National Historic Preservation Act, and tribal interests.

There never seems to be enough time for all the response support, exercises, and training we would like to do to support the response community and help improve everyone’s readiness and skills, but we sure stay busy trying to meet the needs and demands of keeping our nation’s response community on the cutting edge of being prepared, capable, effective, and efficient when it comes to disasters involving oil and chemical spills that affect our waterways and the resources that rely on them.

For more information about training opportunities, upcoming or past exercises, or other response guides, tools, and information, visit our website.