The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) works to prevent and mitigate harm to coastal resources. It is the primary NOAA office that responds to oil spills and hazardous material releases. OR&R also works with federal, state, and tribal natural resource trustees to restore damaged coastal resources.
NOAA scientists survey southeast Alaska beaches for Japan tsunami debris in June 2012.
On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The disaster claimed nearly 16,000 human lives, injured 6,000 people, and destroyed or damaged countless buildings. As a result of the disaster, NOAA expects a portion of the debris that the tsunami washed into the ocean to reach U.S. and Canadian shores over the next several years.
Throughout 2012, NOAA led efforts with federal, state, and local partners to collect data, assess the debris, and reduce possible impacts to our natural resources and coastal communities. These ongoing efforts include sea-, shore-, and satellite-based monitoring; modeling; contingency planning; outreach; and interagency coordination.
Arctic ERMA® provides emergency responders and environmental managers a spatial interface to see where sea ice is thinning in the region.
As Arctic sea ice continues to recede and thin, energy exploration and ship traffic are expected to increase in the region, escalating the risk of oil spills and accidents. In response, NOAA and interagency partners are actively preparing for these possible emergencies.
As part of these preparations, NOAA and its partners have developed an Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) for the Arctic region. ERMA® is a Web-based tool that integrates and synthesizes data—some of which happens in real time—into a single interactive map, providing a quick visualization of a situation and improving communication and coordination among emergency responders and environmental resource managers. The tool brings together all of the available information needed for an effective emergency response in the Arctic's distinctive conditions, such as the extent and concentration of sea ice, locations of ports and pipelines, and vulnerable environmental resources.
ERMA® is currently available for eight geographic regions, including the Arctic, and is frequently used in spill drills and trainings. Most recently, Arctic ERMA® was used by NOAA, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the U.S. Coast Guard during a Shell Oil Company Chukchi Sea oil spill drill. Arctic ERMA® is a product of a partnership among the Office of Response and Restoration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and University of New Hampshire.
NOAA accepted the keys to the new Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Ala., in December 2011.
NOAA responds before, during, and after disasters, from forecasting the paths of hurricanes to restoring the environment after an oil spill. Until recently, however, there was no central hub in the Gulf of Mexico to assist in regional coordination around these disasters.
In December 2011, NOAA accepted the keys to the newly built Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, which will serve as a coastal crisis support facility and communications hub for the region. The 15,200-square-foot facility located in Mobile, Ala., is only minutes from Mobile Regional Airport and is designed to be operational during severe weather events, with an interior F5 tornado shelter and construction that is Category 5 hurricane resistant.
The center creates an unprecedented regional presence and expands federal capacity to plan for and respond to hazards in the Gulf of Mexico, a region which experiences frequent natural and human-caused disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and oil spills. The new facility not only includes offices and conference rooms, but also a large multifunction space which can be used for trainings, meetings, drills, and emergency response operations. In addition to the Office of Response and Restoration, the center will house staff from the Office of Coast Survey, National Marine Fisheries Service, and National Weather Service.
An estimated $60 million in early restoration projects began along the Gulf of Mexico coast to restore natural resources and services injured or lost as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Under the recently completed “Deepwater Horizon Phase I Early Restoration Plan & Environmental Assessment” (ERP/EA), eight restoration projects will be implemented. The projects include marsh creation, coastal dune habitat improvements, nearshore artificial reef creation, and oyster cultch restoration, as well as the construction and enhancement of boat ramps to compensate for lost human use of resources.
The ERP/EA is the first early restoration plan under the unprecedented April 2011 agreement with BP to fund $1 billion in early restoration projects. The funding enables the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council to begin restoration before the completion of damage assessment activities. Phase I projects, including two each in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, were the focus of 12 public meetings held throughout the Gulf States and in Washington, D.C., during January and February 2012. Following the meetings, more than 500 people and organizations submitted comments, which were gathered and evaluated. The comments, as well as trustee responses to them, are included in the Phase I plan.
NOAA develops a number of emergency response and planning tools to address oil and chemical spills.
In 2012, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) made significant improvements to the tools America’s response community depends on to assess the threat and impact of spills and releases. From the Arctic to the Caribbean and the ocean floor to the air overhead, OR&R models, analyses, and expertise expand our understanding of environmental problems and how to solve them.
The General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment application and the Trajectory Analysis Planner—the modeling tools OR&R uses to predict the possible trajectories pollutants might follow in a body of water, such as in an oil spill—were improved with additional data sources for currents, winds, and sea surface height and expanded to provide better planning information for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; the North Slope of Alaska; and the Caribbean.
Additionally in 2012, OR&R and the Office of Atmospheric Research combined two atmospheric dispersion models to yield better estimates of how toxins might disperse following toxic chemical releases (Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres Model and Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory Model). Also, using the Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats Database, OR&R generated detailed threat assessments for the U.S. Coast Guard to inform decisions regarding sunken vessels that contain fuel.