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small noaa logo Home | Emergency Response | Responding to Chemical Spills

The Emergency Response Division (ERD) Role in OR&R

Thousands of incidents occur each year in which oil or chemicals are released into the environment as a result of accidents or natural disasters. Spills into our coastal waters, whether accidental or intentional, can harm people and the environment and cause substantial disruption of marine transportation with potential widespread economic impacts. The Emergency Response Division (ERD) of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific expertise to support an incident response and initiates natural resource damage assessment. This integrated approach provides for an efficient and effective response, minimizing the harm to people, reducing the negative impacts to the economy and enhancing environmental recovery. Under the National Contingency Plan, NOAA has responsibility for providing scientific support to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for oil and hazardous material spills. To support this mandate, ERD provides 24-hour, 7 day a week response to spill events.


The Emergency Response Division typically responds to over 150 incidents annually. Some of the most notable responses in 2008 and 2009 included:

  • M/V Cosco Busan:. The container ship M/V Cosco Busan struck the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay, California on November 7, 2007. An approximate 100-foot gash in the hull of the vessel resulted, and 58,000 gallons of fuel oil (IFO 380) was released into the water. NOAA's ERD staff responded, providing trajectory forecasts of oil movement, consultation on clean-up techniques, shoreline assessments, and coordination of weather forecasts and other science
  • Barge DM 932: On July 23, 2008, the T/V Tintomara collided with the tug/barge (M/V Mel Oliver and DM932) near downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, resulting in a spill of more than 380,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil. Over the next several months, ERD supported the incident operations, providing science coordination, trajectory forecasts, and shoreline and cleanup assessments. Operations were temporarily halted during the passage on September 1, 2008 of Hurricane Gustav and, subsequently, Hurricane Ike.
  • Hurricanes Gustav and Ike: On September 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall on the Louisiana coast, reaching into Florida with destructive rain bands and tornadoes. Only two weeks later, on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall during the early morning hours in the Galveston/Houston area of Texas. ERD provided scientific support to the USCG, EPA and FEMA in responding to the numerous incidents generated as a result of the storms.
  • Eugene Island Pipeline Spill: On July 26, 2009 oil was observed approximately 33 miles offshore and 60 miles southwest of Houma, Louisiana. The oil was subsequently identified as coming from a leak from the Eugene Island Pipeline System. An estimated 63,000 gallons of oil was released. Pre-approved dispersant was applied to the heaviest concentrations of the spill and a significant amount of skimming was done. In addition to identifying resources at risk, ERD provided trajectories and coordinated monitoring for efficacy of the dispersant application.

News, photos, and other information about current and historical spill incidents is available at OR&R's IncidentNews site.


ERD develops tools, guidelines, and small, field-oriented job aids to assist preparedness for response communities. In addition, NOAA provides standard techniques for observing oil, assessing shoreline impact, and evaluating and selecting cleanup technologies that have been widely accepted by response agencies.

Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps are used to identify vulnerable resources and habitats in advance of emergencies so that appropriate response actions can be planned. ERD works with local experts to develop or update these maps throughout the country. Maps are published in hardcopy and digital formats, and translators are maintained to assist in using the data in GIS environments.

Some of the more widely distributed tools that ERD develops include a trajectory forecasting tool, GNOME; the oil weathering model, ADIOS; and the chemical hazards tools, CAMEO and the Chemical Reactivity Worksheet. Used with its Location Files, GNOME (General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment) provides a mechanism for end-users to explore various potential spill scenarios. ADIOS (Automated Data Inquiry for Oil Spills) provides planners and responders with information on how thousands of different oils could physically or chemically change over time under various scenarios. The CAMEO (Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations) program, developed jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency, provides first responders with information and tools for chemical incidents.


ERD provides training to individuals in industry and government on the scientific aspects of oil and chemical spill response. Over 1000 individuals were trained in 2009. The goal of ERD training is to transfer scientific expertise and experience to the broadest possible audience. Successful training promotes more efficient planning and spill response.

More Information
  • OR&R Media Archive An archive of media articles about OR&R's Emergency Response Division (formerly Hazardous Materials Response Division).

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