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Are your pre-plans in place, or is your response plan just checking off boxes?

DATE: February 27, 2017

Are your pre-plans in place, or is your response plan just checking off the boxes? 

As a consultant, I assist companies developing pre-plans for just about everything: system failures, contagion outbreaks, natural disasters, and so on.  With that said, for today’s conversation we will be focusing on pre-planning, more commonly referred to as Tactical Plans, pertaining to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA-90) regulations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

 What’s actually required?

 What’s actually required, and what SHOULD be done are two different things.  First, let’s summarize what each agency states with regards to “pre-planning” under their portion of OPA-90.

 EPA – 40 CFR Part §112.20 - Facility response plans:

 Link to Rule

 A summary of what the EPA requires of regulated operators to develop is as follows:

 An Emergency Response Action Plan, which serves as both a planning and action document;

  • Facility information including its name, type, location, owner and operator information;
  • Emergency notification, equipment, personnel, and evacuation information;
  • Identification of potential spill hazards and analysis of previous spills;
  • Discussion of small, medium, and worst-case discharge scenarios and response actions;
  • Description of discharge detection procedures and equipment;
  • Detailed implementation plan for spill response, containment, and disposal;
  • Description and records of self-inspections, drills and exercises, and response training;
  • Diagrams of facility site plan, drainage, and evacuation plan; and
  • Security (e.g., fences, lighting, alarms, guards, emergency cut-off valves and locks, etc.).

 USCG – 33 CFR Part §154 - Subpart F—Response Plans for Oil Facilities:

 Link to Rule

Under §154.1035 -  Specific requirements for facilities that could reasonably be expected to cause significant and substantial harm to the environment, the USCG goes into great detail on the types of minimum pre-planning scenarios they require to be developed along with the required pre-planning considerations: staging areas, environmental impacts, personnel considerations, etc.

PHMSA – 49 CFR Part §194 – Response Plans for Onshore Oil Pipelines

 Link to Rule

Under §194.107 - General response plan requirements, PHMSA discusses the minimum planning requirements a pipeline operator should develop in advance of a release.  Discussions include disposal of waste, compliance with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) and Area Contingency Plans (ACP), resource and personnel allocations, environmental considerations, etc.

 How are they normally addressed by Industry?

As with everything, some companies do the above very well; however, over the course of my seventeen years writing such plans, the companies that do this well by pre-planning under these programs are the exception rather than the norm.  The companies that are the norm are in compliance with the rules, generally speaking, but just that, agency checklist passed.   Let’s pause for a second and remember what these plans are truly for - they’re not just plans to fulfil a government requirement; moreover, they are plans to prepare for and react with during an actual oil release on site.  Too often we see plans that have photo copies or large numbers of downloaded maps thrown in the back of plans with the intent to use as guides, long (very long) narrative discussions on how one would respond, and pages and pages, which again are required, on resource capabilities, personnel on-hand, contractors under contract, etc.  That is GREAT, and what the rules require; however, that’s all it is, rule fulfillment.  If we step back once we’ve gotten through the rush to get a compliant plan in and approved, one must then ask, “Can we really use this in an actual incident?” and the answer is typically NO.

What should we do then?

Disclaimer, I don’t have a crystal ball, I’m not the wizard behind the curtain, and I realize the below is not all inclusive; however, the below should get you in the correct direction. Humor aside, we at Witt O’Brien’s have been doing these for years, in addition to being an actual incident response company.

To begin, one should first know the extent of the pre-planning area, or areas if talking pipelines.  To do this, there are two (2) common methods used, as appropriate -  one for spills based on land and water trajectories, and the second for purely water trajectories.  When land and water, typically one would use the EPA’s Chezy-Manning formula, which is found in the above referenced EPA rule link.  We’ve created a tool in-house, if you want a copy, email me and I’ll forward you the excel spreadsheet.   If purely water, typically one would use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Automated Data Inquiry for Oil Spills (ADIOS) tool.  These methodologies will give you a pretty realistic planning area based off defined parameters. 

Once your spill trajectory area has been determined, review the below: 

  • Current Environmental Sensitivity Maps (ESMs) and/or other publically available documents for known areas of concern;
  • Current satellite imagery, Google Earth, to determine protection areas, review/confirm surrounding areas, and formulate tactics;
  • Applicable ACPs; and
  • NCP.

With this data in hand, it’s now time to start developing your pre-plans, from this point forward referred to as tactical plans.  At Witt O’Brien’s we generally consolidate this information onto 11x17 pages, so they are quick guides that can be grabbed in a rush and easily interpreted by responders.

What data points should one consider?

  • Facility Name/Pipeline Name
  • Image Description/Name
  • Water Body
  • Plan Name
  • Segment Description
  • Response Objectives
  • Safety Notes
  • Environmental Sensitivities
  • OSRO
  • Equipment/Personnel
    • Decontamination
    • Tactical Considerations
    • Additional Comments
    • Location Type
    • Potential Source
    • Collection Point
    • Water Intake
    • Marina
    • Dock
    • Boat Ramp (Trailer)
    • Boat Launch (Hand)
    • Physical Address
    • Phone Number/Radio Freq.
    • Lat./Long.
    • Other Location Information
    • Directions

Examples of how it should look (some imagery and details removed to protect client):

Again, there is no wrong or right way to do these; however, in todays’ world, organizations can’t afford the risk of not responding quickly, and effectively.  To do this, one must have an understanding of one’s area of responsibility (AOR) so to quickly respond, protect, keep safety forward, and clean up the area.  Developing these tactical plans in advance with actual thought put towards them, adds another tool in your organization’s emergency response toolbox.

Need some compliance assistance with your tactical plans or just have a question? Email John Carroll (, Associate Managing Director - Compliance Services at Witt O’Brien’s or reach him by phone at 281-320-9796.

Don't forget to RSVP for our April 5th Compliance Workshop regarding these regulations and more.

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