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Frequently Asked Questions

What are Geographic Response Plans?
Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) are oil spill response plans tailored to protect a specific sensitive area from impacts following a spill. These response plans are map-based strategies that can save time during the critical first few hours of an oil spill response. They show responders where sensitive areas are located and where to place oil spill protection resources.


GRS have been developed in several regions of the U.S., including Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington State. In nearly all areas, the GRS represent the consensus product of a planning effort involving state and federal oil spill response agencies, natural resource trustees, spill responders, industry, stakeholders, and the public.


Nuka Research has been the lead contractor for GRS development in Alaska since 1998 and Massachusetts since 2009.


Why develop GRS?
The initial phase of an oil spill response can be quite hectic. Multiple objectives must be met using available resources and responders. At the local level, residents and emergency responders are often the first ones to show up at the shoreline, eager to act before the spilled oil reaches sensitive shoreline environments.

The process of developing GRS brings together diverse groups in a non-emergency setting to discuss environmental sensitivities, protection priorities, response strategies, and response constraints. GRS development fosters local buy-in and creates realistic expectations for protecting sensitive areas from oil spill impacts.

GRS use standard terminology and tactics presented in a field-oriented format so that responders can easily recognize and implement the strategies. Because of this standardization, GRS are an important tool for training and preparedness as well as response.


How are GRS used?
GRS are tactical plans that provide a set of “directions” to initial responders for how to protect environmentally sensitive areas and resources from oil impacts. GRS sites are selected based on several criteria, and response strategies are developed for those sites in advance of an oil spill. When local responders arrive at the scene, they now have an implementation to deploy pre-staged equipment at sensitive sites.

The GRS developed for coastal Massachusetts by MassDEP and Nuka Research have been incorporated into the appropriate Area Contingency Plans for oil spill and hazardous materials response. While these plans are NOT a mandate for site protection or response, they are available to government and private industry oil spill responders if needed.


How are GRS developed?
A collaborative Work Group will oversee inland river GRS development. The group will begin by selecting candidate sites along each river system. Information will be compiled about candidate sites through sensitivity maps, local knowledge, site surveys, trustee agency input, and public comment.

A Tactics sub-group will be responsible for identifying a set of “core” oil spill response tactics appropriate for each river system/shoreline based on the spill response resources available to first responders, the resources at risk, and the coastal geomorphology. These core tactics will then be applied to each GRS site in order to meet the particular protection goals.

GRS are drafted, reviewed, and should ideally be field-verified. Field verification and testing, if conducted, may result in modifications to the GRS. GRS can be tested during scheduled training exercises, unannounced readiness drills, or actual oil spills. An important part of the process is to keep these documents “evergreen” by updating them as needed.


Who will be involved in the EPA GRS project?
GRS Work Groups are being formed to participate in GRS development. These groups includes representatives of local government, the oil industry, spill response experts, natural resource trustees, stakeholder groups, and the public.


All Work Group meetings will be open to the public and meeting information will be published on the project website. 

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