National Response System

The National Response System (NRS) routinely and effectively responds to a wide range of oil and hazardous substance releases. It is a multi-layered system of individuals and teams from local, state, and federal agencies, industry, and other organizations. These groups share expertise and resources to ensure that cleanup activities are timely, efficient, and minimize threats to human health and the environment.

At the heart of the system is the National Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP ensures that the federal government’s resources and expertise are available immediately for emergencies that are beyond the capabilities of local and state responders. The NCP provides the framework for the NRS and establishes how it works.

When releases are serious enough to be considered "Nationally Significant Incidents," the National Response Framework (NRF) is activated, and works in conjunction with the NRS and NCP. The NRF is the federal government's comprehensive, all-hazard approach to crisis management. It provides a mechanism for coordinating federal assistance to state governments and localities.

Other components of EPA's response structure include the National Response Center and the National Response Team.

National Response System Flowchart

The flowchart below shows how the National Response System functions.

  1. When a release or spill occurs, the organization responsible for the release or spill is required by law to notify the National Response Center (NRC).
  2. Once a report is made, the NRC immediately notifies an On-Scene Coordinator (OSC).
  3. The OSC determines the status of the response by state and local government responders and the company responsible for the release or spill, called the potentially responsible party.  
  4. The OSC also monitors the situation to determine whether, or how much, federal involvement is necessary.

The OSC may request additional support to respond to a release or spill, such as: additional contractors, technical support from EPA's Environmental Response Team, or Scientific Support Coordinators from EPA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The OSC may seek support from the Regional Response Team (RRT) to access special expertise or to provide additional logistical support. In addition, the National Response Team stands ready to provide backup policy and logistical support to the OSC and the RRT during an incident.

For more information, please see Responding to an Incident.

Flow diagram of an incident being processed through the NRS

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