National Response Framework (NRF) & Disaster Funding


Every day oil spills occur for which the NPFC provides funding. Although these spills may cost millions of dollars to cleanup and may impact the locales in which they occur for decades, they generally do not make the national news or have a significant impact on the nation as a whole.

The 30-year-old National Contingency Plan describes how government agencies respond to these "everyday" spills, including when and how to use the funding sources the NPFC administers.

Occasionally, the nation experiences a larger disaster whose response cannot be fully coordinated under the NCP--often because it involves more than just oil or hazardous material pollution. Responses to these Incidents of National Significance are described in the new National Response Framework, which provides additional funding sources the NPFC may also administer under the Stafford Act.

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National Contingency Plan (NCP)

The National Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Plan (NCP) is the basic framework for responding to pollution incidents, both large and small. These regulations, first developed in 1968, have been revised several times, including in response to CERCLA and to the Oil Pollution Act. All funding the NPFC administers for spill response falls under the NCP.

Besides designating On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs), establishing National and Regional Response Teams, and setting up the structure for everyday spill response, the NCP also provides the blueprint for responding to a Spill of National Significance (SONS).

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Incidents of National Significance

Whenever a disaster (either natural or manmade) occurs and harms or threatens a community or the natural environment, federal, state, local, and private emergency resources respond. The Department of Homeland Security developed the National Response Framework (NRF) to structure the way responders work together and to provide supporting mechanisms for disasters so serious the Secretary of Homeland Security declares them to be Incidents of National Significance. The NRF is the comprehensive response plan for all hazards within the United States.

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Stafford Act Disasters

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act provides support for Incidents of National Significance that the President declares a disaster or emergency, usually at the request of a state governor. While such events are uncommon, several do occur each year.

Once the President makes the declaration, the Stafford Act is activated; and special response provisions, including the Stafford Act Disaster Relief Fund, can then be used to respond to the disaster. The NRF describes these mechanisms as well.

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Pollution Incident Response

The NRF identifies several roles for the Coast Guard in response to incidents. One specific area of responsibility is pollution. Pollution Incidents of National Significance can be caused by industrial accidents; natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes; terrorist acts; or weapons of mass destruction.

The NRF describes the response and funding provisions for Pollution Incidents of National Significance.

  • ESF #10 - Most pollution incidents, especially responses to Stafford Act disasters and emergencies, fall under in the NRF's HAZMAT Emergency Support Function (ESF #10).
  • Oil & HAZMAT Incident Annex - Most other pollution responses fall under the NRF's Oil and Hazardous Materials Incident Annex, which incorporates the NCP.
  • Other Incident Annexes - Some pollution incidents may also fall under several other Incident Annexes.
  • NCP - Pollution incidents that are not declared Incidents of National Significance or Stafford Act Disasters or Emergencies continue to fall under the NCP.

HAZMAT Emergency Support Function (ESF #10)

The National Response Framework contains 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), which are the response mechanisms used to implement Stafford Act provisions for an Incident of National Significance (i.e., incidents that the President has declared a disaster).

Funding for ESF responses comes from the Disaster Relief Fund under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

ESF #10 is for HAZMAT, which includes oil and hazardous substances.

Incident Annexes

The NRF also has 7 Incident Annexes, which complement or overlay the ESFs. The Incident Annexes were added to the NRF to address situations in which the federal government may exercise overall control of a situation, rather than acting at the request of states.

When ESF #10 is activated, up to 3 annexes may be in use simultaneously:

  • Biological Incident,
  • Catastrophic Incident, and
  • Terrorism and Law Enforcement Incident.

In these cases, funding generally comes from the Stafford Act Disaster Relief Fund.

Oil and Hazardous Materials Incident Annex. However, a pollution incident may be an Incident of National Significance without ESF #10 activation. In this case, the Oil and Hazardous Materials Incident Annex of the NRF provides guidance. This annex is based on the NCP; funding for response either comes from the OSLTF (for oil spills) or from Superfund (for hazardous material releases).

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The NPFC's Role in Funding Pollution Incidents

The National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) specializes in providing and managing funding dedicated to pollution response. Depending on the nature of the pollution and the seriousness of the incident, funding can come from one of three funding sources:

  • Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF)
  • CERCLA Superfund
  • Disaster Relief Fund under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

If the President declares a disaster and ESF-10 actions must be taken, FEMA can assign the Stafford Act funds for Coast Guard pollution response activity. Such activity can include FOSC-directed removals and the deployment of Strike Teams and other special teams. The NPFC serves as the Coast Guard's manager for such reimbursable funds in addition to its role as administrator for the OSLTF and the Coast Guard's portion of Superfund.

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Comparison of Pollution Incidents

The table below compares (and somewhat simplifies) the different types of pollution incidents.

Type of Pollution Incident Who Declares Plan Funding
Most Spills N/A National Contingency Plan (NCP) OSLTF (oil)
Superfund (HAZMAT)
Spill of National Significance (SONS) EPA Administrator (inland zone spills)
USCG Commandant (coastal zone spills)
National Contingency Plan (NCP) OSLTF (oil)
Superfund (HAZMAT)
Incident of National Significance (IONS) Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Usually ESF #10 of the National Response Framework (NRF) Stafford Act Disaster Funding
Occasionally, Oil & HAZMAT Incident Annex of NRF (Basically NCP) OSLTF (oil)
Superfund (HAZMAT)
Stafford Act Disaster/Emergency President Almost Always ESF #10 of the National Response Framework (NRF) Stafford Act Disaster Funding

Most Incidents of National Significance involving oil and hazardous materials are managed through an ESF #10 activation, but an Incident of National Significance involving oil and hazardous materials could occur for which ESF #10 would not be activated; in these cases, the Oil & HAZMAT Incident Annex is used.

Some oil and hazardous materials incident responses may be initiated under the NCP alone, or under the Oil and HAZMAT Incident Annex as an Incident of National Significance, then transition to ESF #10 after a Stafford Act declaration is made (or after ESF #10 is activated via the NRF Federal-to-Federal support mechanism).

Federal On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) have independent authority under the NCP to respond to an oil or hazardous materials incident and may initiate initial response activities before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determines whether the incident is an Incident of National Significance and/or the President declares a Stafford Act major disaster or emergency.

EPA and DHS/USCG maintain authority for classifying a discharge a SONS. DHS maintains authority for classifying an incident an Incident of National Significance. A SONS may or may not be an Incident of National Significance, depending on the determination of DHS. Further, DHS may determine that an NCP response that is not a SONS nevertheless rises to the level of an Incident of National Significance.