National Strike Force Coast Guard Proceedings
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - National Strike Force Coast Guard Proceedings
PROC E E DI NG S
Spring 2015 Vol. 72, Number 1
History and Heritage
6 Today’s National Strike Force: National Strike Force all-hazard response capabilities.
by LT Scott Houle and BM1 Kenny Tucker
10 The National Strike Force and the National Response System: Origins and evolution.
by Mr. Scott R. Lundgren
14 From Oil to Anthrax: The National Strike Force’s long, messy history.
by CDR Keith M. Donohue
19 The Oil Spill Response Fund: Four decades of success.
by Mr. Allen R. Thuring
22 Four Decades of Response: Four NSF team members recall their experiences.
by Mr. Peter A. Brunk, Miguel L. Bella, Mr. Mark G. Gregory and DC1 Ken W. Bond
30 Fathoms Below: The Coast Guard NSF Dive Program.
by CDR JoAnne Hanson
Oil Spill Response
32 Federalized and Privatized Oil Spill Response: Accountability through oil spill response capability.
by LT Jonathan Cooper, LT Michael Clausen, and Mr. Richard Gaudiosi
34 The Exxon Valdez Spill: Twenty-five years later.
by Mr. Gary A. Reiter, Mr. Glenn Wiltshire, and Mr. Jack Kemerer
37 National Strike Force Oversight: Ensuring marine salvage and commercial diving operation safety.
by Mr. Jim Elliott
40 SMART Monitoring Protocol: The on-scene coordinator’s tool for success.
by LT Frank Kulesa and Master Chief Marine Science Technician Andrew Jaeger
44 Beyond Augmentation: Specialized forces in the Texas City “Y” spill response.
by CAPT Brian Penoyer, CAPT Randal Ogrydziak, CAPT Lisa Campbell, CDR Ricardo Alonso, CDR Kevin Lynn,
CDR Zeita Merchant, and LCDR Valerie Boyd
48 Between the Spills: NOAA’s efforts to mitigate coastal hazards.
by Mr. Doug Helton
52 An Energy Renaissance: New fuel transport methods bring potential new risk.
by LT Aaron Jozsef
54 From Oil Spills to Chemical Releases: The Environmental Protection Agency’s role in national response.
by Ms. Dana Tulis
57 That’s a Lot of Oil: A National Strike Force Superfund response.
by Mr. Dale R. Hemenway and Mr. James W. Snyder
59 Keeping It Safe: Strike force members collaborate to clean a poisonous substance.
by Mr. J. J. Kichner, P.E.
62 National Strike Force CBRN Operations: Specialized teams with specialized capabilities.
by CDR Tedd Hutley and LT Brownie Kuk
65 Experience Can Be the Best Teacher: Building federal all-hazmat response proficiency.
by LT Bryan Naranjo and LTJG Leigh Van Lear
68 Leadership in a Time of Crisis: An interview with former NSF commanding officer, RDML Meredith Austin.
by LT Christopher Kimrey
72 The Incident Command System: A historical perspective.
by CDR Kristy Plourde and CDR Ron Cantin
74 Beyond Complexity: Leadership in support of the on-scene coordinator.
by LCDR Jeffrey Rubini, CEM
77 Calling in Reinforcements: Coast Guard surge support.
by Mr. Kevin Sligh and LCDR Robert Gore
79 We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: International response efforts.
by CDR Kevin Lynn
82 Incident Management and Crisis Response: A collective approach.
by CAPT Joseph Gleason and CDR Jason Gunning
85 Today’s IMAT: Ready to assist with incident management
by CAPT Anthony Lloyd
87 Gathering Facts, Investigating Incidents, Preventing Casualties: Lessons learned from
an oil spill response perspective.
by Mr. Robert VanZandt and Mr. Scott Lundgren
4 Assistant Commandant’s Perspective
by Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown
5 Champion’s Point of View
by CAPT Claudia C. Gelzer
91 Chemical of the Quarter
Understanding Mustard Gas: The lingering threat.
by Joshua P. Gray, Ph.D., LCDR Gregory Crettol,
MST2 Thomas Withers, 1/c Samantha Cardoza and
1/c Joshua Moan
99 Upcoming in Proceedings
Cover image by SanerG/iStock/Thinkstock.
Graphics USCG and its licensors, unless otherwise indicated.
We devote this issue of Proceedings to those who assume, as their core mission, responsibility for all-
hazards response. Skillfully preparing for and responding to disasters of all kinds—from oil spills and
hazardous material releases to mass casualties—requires a diverse, robust, engaged, and proficient team.
Those who comprise our National Response System are proactive in thinking strategically, initiating
informed policy, honing and applying intelligent on-the-ground tactics, training continually, stocking
and maintaining essential specialized equipment, operating in interagency and international environ-
ments, drafting and preserving careful documentation, and much more, all while carefully navigating
complicated legal, fiscal, political, and public-relations realities.
As I write, we are deploying members of the Pacific Strike Team to Bangladesh to assist authorities
there in responding to a significant heavy fuel oil spill impacting the Sundarbans, a site renowned for
its remarkable biodiversity, which is now endangered. This, unfortunately, is not an exceptional case. It
merely serves as one example of how we deploy National Strike Force personnel on a regular basis. Each
strike team member averages 160 deployment days per year, in support of national and international
crisis response operations. In another case, we detailed an industrial hygienist to the DHS Office of
Health Affairs to assist with the Ebola outbreak. These deployments require an enormous amount of col-
laboration and coordination, and are vitally important to cultivating and sustaining a healthy National
Response System that is critical to ensuring national security and our collective economic well-being.
Certain emerging realities highlight the demand for our all-hazards capabilities and the criticality
of preparing for and executing all-hazards response operations. The contemporary boom in North
American crude oil and natural gas production, for example, will stress marine transportation systems
already faced with aging infrastructure, minimal recapitalization, and a general lack of investment.
With increased vessel traffic and congestion on our waterways, we must anticipate some increase in dis-
charges, spills, groundings, and other accidents. Swelling populations, typically densely clustered along
coastal shorelines, are especially vulnerable to severe weather. Hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, and
other disastrous natural events devastate communities, bring about catastrophic loss of life, and damage
key infrastructure. International political tensions can spark armed conflict, increasingly asymmetric
and unconventional in nature, as well as violence by terrorist organizations or lone actors; nefarious
intent carries with it potential use of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive devices.
The aforementioned challenges represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg to which those who make up
the National Response System—operators and support staff alike—devote their time and attention in
full. Our service motto of Semper Paratus resonates across the full spectrum of potential events.
To this end, and at the direction of the Commandant, the Deputy Commandant for Operations and U.S.
Coast Guard headquarters staff are diligently working on a Climate Change Strategy and an Energy
Renaissance Action Plan. These documents will complement existing guidance, such as the Western
Hemisphere Strategy, and provide important direction and prioritization for programmatic and field-
level response efforts.
This issue of Proceedings provides an in-depth understanding of the historical accomplishments, cur-
rent challenges, and future work in the dynamic world of incident management and crisis response.
I strongly encourage you to take away from this insightful and intriguing issue an understanding that
the safety and security of our citizenry, environment, and economy depend upon, at least in part, the
comprehensive initiatives of interagency, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Coast Guard
4 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
Admiral Paul F. Zukunft
U.S. Coast Guard
The Marine Safety
& Security Council
United States Coast Guard
Rear Admiral Steven D. Poulin
Judge Advocate General
Mr. Jeffrey G. Lantz
Director of Commercial
Regulations and Standards
Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown
for Response Policy
Rear Admiral Paul F. Thomas
for Prevention Policy
Rear Admiral Todd A. Sokalzuk
Assistant Commandant for
Resources, Chief Financial Officer
Rear Admiral Peter W. Gautier
Director for Governmental
and Public Affairs
Captain Jonathan C. Burton
Director of Inspections
Mr. William R. Grawe (Acting)
Director of National Pollution
Mr. Gary C. Rasicot
Director of Marine Transportation
Ms. Mary E. Landry
Director of Incident Management
and Preparedness Policy
Mr. Michael W. Mumbach
by REAR ADMIRAL PETER J. BROWN
U.S. Coast Guard
Assistant Commandant for Response Policy
Picture the following scenarios: 1) two vessels collide on the Houston Ship Channel and thick bunker
fuel gushes into the busy waterway; 2) train cars derail, release toxic chemicals into Mantua Creek in
New Jersey, and residents are exposed; 3) a Category 5 hurricane ruptures a million-gallon oil storage
tank, its noxious contents spill into flood waters that surge into New Orleans neighborhoods; 4) the
Department of Defense seeks subject matter expertise to destroy Syria’s 620-ton chemical weapons
stockpile in a complex offshore operation.
Sweating a bit? Or are you chomping at the bit to get to work? If it’s the latter, you’re probably a Coast
Guard strike team member. These were real all-hazard response scenarios Coast Guard operational
commanders faced. While each required a unique response, they all had one thing in common: the
National Strike Force (NSF) deployed to ensure a successful outcome. For more than four decades,
these highly trained and specialized teams have responded in the name of public and environmental
safety to make bad scenarios better.
I’m proud to honor the history of our NSF through this edition of Proceedings. This issue will provide
a better understanding of a capability that allows federal on-scene coordinators—both Coast Guard
and EPA—to sleep easier at night. A national asset and “special team” codified in the National Con-
tingency Plan, the National Strike Force is highly adaptive and ready to respond. It is comprised
of three all-hazard response teams under the NSF Coordination Center, covering the U.S. and its
territories, and providing technical expertise to international partners worldwide.
The NSF was an essential force multiplier when the Coast Guard responded to the largest marine oil
spill in U.S. history. Deepwater Horizon was a watershed event for our service. It tested our capabili-
ties, challenged our policies, and reminded us that we must always work to develop more effective
response techniques and planning scenarios. In the five years since the spill, the Coast Guard has
applied many vital lessons learned to strengthen our people, equipment, and policy.
We developed formal FOSC training, created district incident management preparedness advisors,
and established a deployable Incident Management Assistance Team. We strengthened interagency
partnerships, fortified the spill of national significance exercise program, and invested in pollu-
tion response research and development. This year, the field will receive a major program policy
update—the new Marine Environmental Response Manual—to replace MSM Volume IX. Perhaps
most exciting, the Coast Guard recently welcomed the very first marine safety specialist response
warrant officers into our ranks to bolster field expertise.
The National Strike Force’s role remains at the core of the Coast Guard’s marine environmental
response capability, which will undoubtedly continue to be tested as industry drills offshore in
deeper, more remote waters, including in the Arctic; as we experience unprecedented domestic oil
production; and as we experience the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. The
NSF’s contribution will perhaps be most vital during “peacetime”—the calm between spills and
crises—when we can focus on preparedness, planning, and exercises.
Congratulations to the authors who contributed to this historic edition of Proceedings. Thank you to
all who serve and have served as environmental stewards to our nation. This issue is for you!
5Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
Leslie C. Goodwin
Sarah K. Webster
Proceedings is published quarterly
in the interest of safety at sea under
the auspices of the Marine Safety &
Security Council. Special permission
for republication, either in whole or
in part, except for copyrighted mate-
rial, is not required, provided credit is
given to Proceedings.
The articles contained in Proceed-
ings are submitted by diverse public
and private interests in the maritime
community as a means to promote
maritime safety and security. The
views expressed by the authors do
not necessarily represent those of the
U.S. Coast Guard or the Department
of Homeland Security or represent
Mail: Commandant (CG-DCO-84)
ATTN: Editor, Proceedings Magazine
U.S. Coast Guard Stop 7318
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20593-7318
Phone: (202) 372-2316
Proceedings is free.
by CAPT CLAUDIA C. GELZER
U.S. Coast Guard
Chief, Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy
6 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
The U.S. Department of State coordinates all international
support, which, in many cases, is predetermined and out-
lined in existing international agreements between the U.S.
and other countries.
The NSF currently boasts more than 200 hazmat technicians
who are qualified in specialized response techniques, site
safety, hazard mitigation and source control, incident man-
agement and command and control support, cost manage-
ment, and photo documentation.
The strike force maintains three 12-person hazmat teams at
all times—one at each strike team location—ready to deploy
in response to any request for assistance. Each 12-person
team has four members on call ready to deploy within two
hours of notification, and an additional eight members on
call ready to deploy within six hours of notification with all
The National Strike Force (NSF), established in 1973 to com-
bat large oil spills in support of the federal on-scene coordi-
nator (FOSC), has transformed during the last 40 years into
a robust, worldwide, all-hazard response organization.
Comprised of the Gulf Strike Team, the Pacific Strike Team,
the Atlantic Strike Team, and the National Strike Force
Coordination Center, the NSF plans for and responds to:
• major oil spills;
• hazardous material (hazmat) releases;
• vessel lightering and salvage;
• natural disasters;
• weapons of mass destruction and other chemical, bio-
logical, and radiological events.
Today’s National Strike Force
National Strike Force all-hazard response capabilities.
by LT SCOTT HOULE
U.S. Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team
BM1 KENNY TUCKER
U.S. Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team
History and Heritage
7Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
required equipment. The remainder of the team maintains
a 24-hour response posture.
The Gulf Strike Team is located in Mobile,
Alabama; the Pacific Strike Team in Novato,
California; and the Atlantic Strike Team in Fort
Dix in New Jersey.
The National Strike Force Coordination Center
is located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Members typically deploy for up to 21 days. If an incident
exceeds this period, additional responders will be deployed
to backfill positions. National Strike Force responders
deploy, on average, 160 days per year.
NSF personnel are experts in site safety planning and
oversight and are frequently requested to serve as Incident
Command System (ICS) safety officers for hazmat response
operations. As such, they are familiar with Occupational
Safety and Health Administration requirements for haz-
ardous waste operations and emergency response and have
specific training in hazard analysis techniques. National
Strike Force personnel are also certified to serve in a wide
range of ICS positions, including incident commander,
operations section chief, planning chief, safety officer, and
finance and logistics section chief, or as deputies or coaches
for those positions.
As hazmat technicians, NSF personnel are subject mat-
ter experts in hazard mitigation and source control; and,
although technicians are trained and ready to suit up in
personal protective equipment (PPE)1 to go in and physi-
cally perform source control, they are more often requested
to provide advice and help develop strategies.
Biological response services: The National Strike Force
maintains the equipment and capability to conduct site
assessment and characterization for incidents with sus-
pected biological warfare agents. Personnel use specialized
equipment to make field presumptive determinations to
identify if a biological agent exists at the incident and then
make recommendations to the FOSC based on the results.
The National Strike Force
Plug and Play
The National Strike Force prides
itself on being completely interoper-
able—meaning any NSF strike team
member is able to seamlessly integrate
with personnel from the other strike
teams, regardless of which team the other
personnel came from.
Moreover, the strike force works toward
interoperability with other specialized
response teams from other government
agencies and non-governmental orga-
nizations through joint exercises and
training sessions, to refine interopera-
bility and share and enhance each other’s
best practices and policies.
Going the Distance
The NSF’s 12-person hazmat response
teams are each capable of rapid deploy-
ment with equipment that allows them
to operate 24 hours a day in up to Level A
personal protective equipment (fully
encapsulated, vapor-tight protection).
This allows the team to make continuous
entries into a contaminated area for at
specialized protective gear or personnel.
This is a significant advantage for inci-
dents in remote locations and those
that require complex efforts to secure
a contamination source or to minimize
human health or environmental impact.
All NSF hazmat technicians are proficient
in chemical response operations. Addi-
tionally, the teams maintain many types
of response packages.
Each is comprised of slightly different
equipment, but all are ready for quick
deployment. This allows teams to be very
nimble in their response and deployment
tactics and to quickly tailor a package to
the response, as every incident is unique
and requires slightly different equipment.
Fighting Brain Drain
Due to the rapid increase of oil produc-
tion throughout the United States, there
is a clear demand for experienced oil spill
response personnel. In the post-Deep-
water Horizon era, the response commu-
nity is faced with the inevitable loss of
experienced personnel—those who
responded to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in
1989. These responders, who were then
in their 30s, have since gathered 25 years
of experience and are approaching retire-
ment age. It is and continues to be a chal-
of knowledge and real-world experience.
In an effort to enhance their experience
and competency, NSF personnel consis-
tently respond to oil-related incidents,
participate in exercises, and conduct
training sessions year-round and
throughout the world.
The National Strike Force also implements
and monitors special oil spill response
tactics, also known as “specialized moni-
toring of applied response technologies”
or SMART, which rely on small, highly
mobile teams that collect real-time data
during dispersant and in-situ burning
This information is channeled to the
unified command and allows leaders to
make appropriate response decisions.
8 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
they are ready to respond to even the most dangerous toxic
industrial chemical, toxic industrial material, or chemical
Chemical response services: These are among the most
complex and robust of all NSF capabilities. From the
first month responders report to a strike team, they are
immersed in training and real-world exercises to ensure
Personal Protective Equipment
The National Strike Force maintains a
robust cache of specialized personal
to safely perform work in hazardous envi-
ronments, including levels A, B, C, and D
personal protective equipment (Level A
being the most protective).
Each strike team also has a mini Andros
robot that can transport hazmat sensors
into a hazardous environment. It also
serves as a great remote-observation
instrument, as it is equipped with three
onboard video cameras.
Hazmat Response Trailer
Carrying everything needed to conduct
continuous entries into a hazardous
environment, the hazardous material
response trailer comes complete with a
mobile incident command center, robust
communications suite, onboard genera-
tors, and an air compressor system to
refill self-contained breathing apparatus
A re-breather is a breathing apparatus
that recycles the substantially unused
oxygen content of each breath, which
allows responders to remain in a
hazardous environment in excess of four
hours—much longer than responders
wearing self-contained breathing appa-
ratus. Re-breather technology prom-
ises to become the future of respiratory
protection for NSF responders.
Strike force members use detection
and monitoring equipment—such as
organic vapor-detection instruments,
multi-gas meters for toxic and explosive
atmospheres, networked remote atmo-
spheric monitors, and aerosol particu-
late meters—to identify unknown atmo-
spheres and quantify contamination.
The NSF also constantly evaluates
new technology and advanced instru-
ments that are emerging for emergency
response. This ensures that older, less
capable, or more bulky equipment is
replaced by equipment that offers more
compact, robust technology.
Mobile Incident Command
One of the NSF’s most recent additions to
its specialized equipment collection is an
updated mobile incident command post,
which replaces mobile incident command
posts that the Department of Defense
transferred to the National Strike Force
The trailer is self-contained, complete
with generator power, climate control,
and an extensive wireless communica-
tions system that allows NSF responders
to leverage advanced communications,
video, and geographic information
systems technology for efficient and
Radiation Detection Tools
NSF personnel use a variety of instru-
ments to detect, identify, and measure
radiation, for example, thermo lumi-
nescent dosimeters to ensure response
personnel don’t exceed their annual dose
limit for ionizing radiation.
Oil Spill Response Equipment
NSF oil spill response equipment includes
the vessel of opportunity skimming
system, inflatable open water contain-
ment boom, and temporary storage
The Coast Guard 26-foot trailerable aids
to navigation boat provides the NSF a
versatile platform from which to perform
multiple missions. Its removable buoy
door allows waterline diver deployment
and recovery for a smooth transition and
assists with diver fatigue.
Shallow draft, 18-foot aluminum hull cen-
ter console vessels allow NSF respond-
ers to deploy on rivers, lakes, and bays
that may have shallow water concerns.
Responders also use 12-14 foot alumi-
num flat-bottom jon boats for floodwater
operations and where restricted access
situations call for small boat operations.
NSF personnel use oil and chemical
pumping equipment to pump a wide
range of chemicals, such as highly corro-
sive acids, toxic materials, and other
dangerous industrial chemicals. The NSF
pumping equipment was even used to
de-water flooded tunnels in New York and
New Jersey, following Hurricane Sandy.
The NSF’s pumping equipment is espe-
cially useful for transferring product from
damaged storage containers or vessels
through a process referred to as an “over-
The strike team’s cache of all-terrain vehi-
cles allows personnel to deploy with the
proper PPE and other equipment.
MST1 Spencer Ehlers carries NSF
Level 2 radiation detection equipment.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by MST2
9Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
Oil spill response services: NSF personnel provide special-
ized oil spill response experience and specialty knowledge,
so responders typically seek them out for validation, consul-
tation, and to share techniques associated with oil-related
incidents. Additionally, strike force oil response equipment
can be deployed anywhere in the world to assist in any
Radiological response services: Strike force personnel
detect and identify radiation sources and understand Alpha,
Beta, Gamma, and neutron radiation. NSF responders typi-
cally make initial recommendations and may escalate a
response to a special team that specializes in just radiologi-
The National Strike Force Coordination Center
The center oversees the three strike teams and the oil spill
response organization classification program. Companies
that participate in this voluntary program are subject to
a stringent verification program and receive appropriate
NSFCC response classifications.
The coordination center also maintains a national logistics
database—the response resource inventory.2
The National Strike Force has transformed significantly,
from an organization constructed solely to support
FOSCs in response to oil spills into an all-hazard response
organization, capable of responding to anything from natu-
ral disasters to weapons of mass destruction and terrorist
NSF responders have risen to the challenge on numerous
occasions, learning new response procedures, tactics, and
overcoming significant challenges such as an increase in
missions without additional personnel or funding to help
with most of the new responsibilities. Although we have the
specialized equipment to provide our advertised response
capabilities, because of the NSF’s professionalism, commit-
ment to the mission, public service, and specialized train-
ing, NSF personnel remain its greatest assets.
About the authors:
LT Scott Houle has served in many capacities in the U.S. Coast Guard for
23 years, including two tours in the Gulf Strike Team Operations Depart-
BM1 Kenny Tucker has served in many capacities in the U.S. Coast Guard
for 13 years, including the Gulf Strike Team Deck and Training Depart-
1. See https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_
2. The Response Resource Inventory, expanded in 1995 to accommodate the needs
of the Oil Spill Removal Organization Classification initiative, includes data
from companies that wish to have their equipment listed in a publicly acces-
sible system, as well as data generated from the Oil Spill Response Organiza-
tion classification program. Private industry participation is voluntary, except
for when they apply for classified OSROs. See https://cgrri.uscg.mil/logon.
MSTC Bo Lisenby is wearing
Level A (the highest level) per-
sonal protective equipment with
air monitoring equipment. U.S.
Coast Guard photo by MST2
MSTC Bo Lisenby, in Level C
PPE, carries a radiation
detector. U.S. Coast Guard
photo by MST2 Heather Clark.
Level A, B, C, and D
Personal Protective Equipment
Level A protection is required when the greatest potential for
exposure to hazards exists and when the greatest level of skin,
respiratory, and eye protection is required.
Level B is worn when the same level of respiratory protection is
required as in Level A, but a lesser degree of skin protection is needed.
Level B protective clothing includes a one-piece ensemble with
the self-contained breathing apparatus worn outside the garment.
Separate gloves and boots are sealed at the interfaces to minimize
Level C has the same level of skin protection as Level B, but a lower
level of respiratory protection. One- or two-piece splash suits are
worn with a cartridge respirator. Used with chemicals that are not
exposure limits. Level C is required when the concentration and type
of airborne substances are known and meet the criteria for using
Level D is the minimum protection required. Protection is primarily a work uniform.
10 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
In addition to providing environmental response doctrine,
the National Response System “family of plans” ensures key
stakeholders across the system are participants in the plan-
ning documents that apply to their role and that participants
establish response strategies and relationships in advance.
At the national level, the 15 National Response Team mem-
ber departments and agencies2 provide input to the Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency and issue NRS guidance.
Regional response teams in 13 regions around the country
maintain regional contingency plans consistent with the
NCP. At the local level, federal on-scene coordinators chair
area committees that write
area contingency plans,
which capture the tactical
level of response prepara-
The system also guides the
relationships with state
emergency response com-
missions and local emer-
gency planning committees
to ensure that community
level hazardous substance
plans are related to the
wider NRS family of plans.
The system begins with
National Response Center
(NRC) activation. The or-
ganization responsible for
a discharge of oil or release
of hazardous substances
The multi-layered National Response System (NRS) has
undergone several generational advances to ensure effec-
tive oil and hazardous substance spill preparedness and
response. The core of the NRS, the National Oil and Hazard-
ous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, or NCP, estab-
lishes the roles and mechanisms whereby federal resources
and expertise are brought in to assist responses that exceed
the capability of local, state, tribal, or territorial responders.
Specifically, NCP elements support the federal on-scene
coordinator (FOSC), 1 through National Response Center
notification, interagency plan development, and assistance
from specialized teams such as the National Strike Force.
The National Strike Force and
the National Response System
Origins and evolution.
by MR. SCOTT R. LUNDGREN
Deputy and Technical Advisor
U.S. Coast Guard Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy
History and Heritage
The National Response System Family of Plans
U.S. Coast Guard graphic.
11Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
History and Evolution
Cuyahoga River Fire
The massive oil discharge from the
Torrey Canyon in U.K. waters, in March
1967, prompted questions on prepared-
ness for such a response in the U.S.,
resulting in the National Multi-Agency
Oil and Hazardous Materials Pollution
Contingency Plan, a predecessor of the
National Contingency Plan.1 With public
sentiment galvanized by the growing
environmental movement and events,
such as the Cuyahoga River Fire of 1969
(started by a spark falling on oil-slicked
debris), 2 Congress passed the Water
Quality Improvement Act of 1970. This
expanded the 1948 Federal Water Pollu-
tion Control Act and called for estab-
lishing a strike force to provide neces-
The executive order that assigned
responsibilities also provided clear
authority for the Environmental Protec-
tion Agency and the Coast Guard to
form necessary teams under the Federal
Water Pollution Control Act, and so
Coast Guard leadership created the
National Strike Force in 1973.4
Love Canal/Valley of the Drums
Due to public and political attention
regarding unmitigated toxic waste sites
such as Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New
York, and the Valley of the Drums near
Louisville, Kentucky, Congress passed
the Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act (CERCLA), colloquially known as
“Superfund,” which broadened the set
of hazardous substances for reporting
and removal, established private
liability for removal and remediation,
and provided for federal removal
authority for all affected environments,
not just navigable waters. CERCLA also
authorized expenditure of Superfund
resources for overhead and equipment
for federal strike teams.5
In 1989 the Exxon Valdez discharged
an estimated 11 million gallons of oil
in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, trig-
gering the next major National Oil
and Hazardous Substance Pollution
Contingency Plan evolution, including
developing industry response capa-
bility. The NSF shifted from Atlantic and
Pacific Area strike teams to a footprint
of three: Pacific (Novato, California); Gulf
(Mobile, Alabama); and Atlantic (Fort
Dix, New Jersey). Coast Guard leaders
also created the National Strike Force
Coordination Center in Elizabeth City,
North Carolina, to administer the strike
teams and maintain national equipment
must by law report these to
the NRC. Then the National
Response Center, which han-
dles approximately 30,000 spill
notifications per year,3 notifies
the FOSC, who then contacts
national resource trustees and
other key response partners
and provides an incident as-
For many notifications, the
FOSC’s initial assessment
determines that the first lines
of response (including the
company responsible for the
spill and local fire, police, and
emergency management orga-
nizations) are working effec-
tively, and on-scene federal
involvement is not required. If
federal assistance is required,
the FOSC initiates or joins a
The National Response System Activation,
Assessment, and Response.
continued on page 12
The National Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Plan, 40 CFR 300.105.
12 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
Reduced energy and feedstock costs also are renewing the
domestic chemical industry, which brings an attendant rise
These and other changes necessitate planning and prepared-
ness review to ensure we as a nation are ready to respond.
Fortunately, the National Response System and the National
Strike Force adapt to address challenges and work to protect
human health and the environment.
About the author:
Mr. Scott Lundgren is the technical advisor and deputy chief of the Office
of Marine Environmental Response Policy at Coast Guard headquarters.
He also serves as the principal international representative on the Interna-
tional Maritime Organization’s International Convention on Oil Pollution
Preparedness, Response and Co-operation technical working group and the
Arctic Council’s emergency prevention, preparedness, and response working
group. He previously served as chief of the Coast Guard’s Incident Man-
agement and Cross Contingency Division, and he holds master’s degrees
in environmental management from Harvard and in national security and
strategic studies from the Naval War College.
command structure that follows the Incident Command
System model of the National Incident Management Sys-
tem, and uses a unified command at the leadership level
to ensure that there are common incident objectives and
Further, the FOSC and the unified command may draw on
agency resources or regional and national response teams,
as well as National Response System special teams (includ-
ing the National Strike Force) that provide deployable,
adaptable, and scalable specialized capability.
Certain events have tested system limits and have resulted
in statutory and regulatory improvements (see sidebar).
Looking forward, the burgeoning North American energy
and petrochemical trends that have emerged during the
past five years have fundamentally changed oil produc-
tion and transportation patterns so that a larger number of
smaller vessels will spend more time on or near U.S. waters.
In the years after this revitalization, the
National Strike Force was also integral to
the Coast Guard and the environmental
response community adopting and inte-
grating the Incident Command System.7
The National Strike Force was exten-
sively engaged in the 9/11 terrorist
attack response, as well as the Capitol
Hill anthrax cleanup. The NSF provided
tactical entry teams, specialized equip-
ment, management support, and a
deputy incident commander for the
anthrax response emergency phase.8
During this period, leadership inte-
grated NSF into the Coast Guard Deploy-
able Operations Group and operations
included greater integration with secu-
rity and defense forces, more involve-
ment in special security events, and
enhanced chemical, biological, radio-
logical, and nuclear capabilities.
On the national stage, the NCP played
Response Plan, later being integrated as
an operational supplement to the suc-
cessor National Response Framework.
The Incident Command System, long
used by environmental responders,
became the incident management
system of choice and national policy
under Homeland Security Presidential
The National Strike Force deployed to
the Hurricane Katrina response to sup-
port field commanders, and assumed
the Coast Guard aspect of the oil
and hazardous substance mission, inMembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team decontaminate investigators during the
Capitol Hill anthrax cleanup. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
13Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
1. While the NCP uses the term on-scene coordinator, the Coast Guard preference
used in this document is federal on-scene coordinator to differentiate between the
on-scene commander in the search and rescue mission.
2. The 15 agencies are: the Environmental Protection Agency (NRT Chair); the U.S.
Coast Guard (NRT Vice Chair); the Department of State; the Federal Emergency
Management Agency; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Labor;
the Department of the Interior; the Department of Defense; the Department of
Justice; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission; the Department of Energy; the Department of Commerce; the Gen-
eral Services Administration; and the Department of Transportation.
3. National Response Center annual data reports are available at: http://cgmix.uscg.
4. See 40 CFR 300.305, or visit online at www.fema.gov/national-incident-manage-
For more information:
To report oil or pollution spills,
call the National Response Center
at (800) 424-8802.
support of the Coast Guard incident
This event prompted national leaders
to replace the National Response Plan
with the National Response Framework,
which provided more opportunities to
utilize the NSF as a key element for envi-
ronmental response during a disaster or
The massive discharge from the
Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico
was the first oil spill since the Exxon
Valdez to demonstrate the challenges
and pressures of a spill of national
significance. The NSF played a key role
in the response and applied specialized
removal techniques during this highly
complex environmental incident.11
Following this response, the Coast
Guard created the Coast Guard Inci-
dent Management Assistance Team
(CG-IMAT) with an all-hazards incident
management focus. The CG-IMAT also
absorbed the Public Information Assist
Team (PIAT), previously based at the
National Strike Force Coordination
Center, to provide improved all-hazards
incident command support.12
Nationwide efforts included improving
National Response System capabilities
and developing an oil/chemical inci-
dent annex to the Federal Interagency
the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, after
the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in
2012 to providing specialized overseas
support to the Department of Defense.
1. 19 ELR 10103 | Environmental Law Reporter.
Available at http://elr.info/sites/default/files/
2. Kovasity, M. (2013) Environmental Hazards: The
Cuyahoga River Fire. EnviroMentor. Available
3. Public Law 91-224. Available at www.gpo.gov/
4. Available at www.archives.gov/federal-register/
5. CERCLA/Superfund Orientation Manual. U.S. Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency: Office of Solid Waste
and Emergency Response, EPA/542/R-92/005,
October 1992. Available at www.epa.gov/super-
6. Pellegrino, C. (1993) OPA 1990 Takes Us Back to the
1970s. International Oil Spill Conference Proceed-
ings: March 1993, Vol. 1993, No. 1, p.p. 843-843.
Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.7901/2169-3358-
Crickard, Lt. A.M., and Donald S. Jensen (March
1993). Post-OPA 90 National Strike Force. Interna-
tion Oil Spill Conference Proceedings. March 1993,
Vol. 1993, No. 1., p.p. 273-275. Available at http://
7. Plourde, CDR K., LCDR Tim Deal, and LT Doug
Lincoln (2003). Changes in the Use of Incident
Command System in the U.S. Coast Guard. Inter-
national Oil Spill Conference Proceedings, April
2003, Vol. 2003, No. 1. Available at http://dx.doi.
8. GAO-03-686, a report to the Chairman, Committee
on Finance. Washington, DC: U.S. Senate, June
2003, Capitol Hill Anthrax Incident: EPA’s Cleanup
Was Successful; Opportunities Exist to Enhance
Contract. Available at www.gao.gov/new.items/
9. HSPD-5 is available at http://fas.org/irp/offdocs/
10. Cantin, R., Roger Laferriere, Larry Hewett, and
Charlie Henry. Managing Multiple Oil Spills from
a Natural Disaster: The Katrina Oil Spill Responses.
International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings,
Vol. 2008, No. 1, May 2008.
11. On Scene Coordinator Report, Deepwater Horizon
Oil Spill, submitted to the NRT, September 2011.
Available at www.uscg.mil/foia/docs/dwh/fosc_
12. CG-IMAT unit information sheet. Available at
14 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
Furthermore, the plan proposed a national “reaction team,”
identified the responsibilities for each signatory agency,2
and named the on-scene commander as the executive agent
who would direct pollution response activities. What the
plan lacked, though, was statutory authority that specifi-
cally authorized agency responsibilities to implement the
Accidents Don’t Wait
Then, on January 28, 1969, a gas blowout occurred off the
coast of Santa Barbara, California. Although the blowout
was sealed off by reinserting the drill pipe back into the
well, oil began to seep out of natural faults below the ocean
floor where the original blowout occurred. During the next
few days, an estimated 30,000 barrels of oil escaped, produc-
ing a massive oil slick.3
The Coast Guard commander of Group Santa Barbara,
designated as the on-scene commander, used the National
Contingency Plan for the first time to coordinate local, state,
and federal agency response.
Responding to the Santa Barbara incident, President Nixon
tapped the director of the Executive Office of the President’s
Office of Science and Technology to develop a panel to inves-
tigate the problem and make recommendations.
At the same time, an avalanche of bills sprang up in Con-
gress. By February 1969, there were a dozen bills concerning
oil pollution pending before the House alone. While the
House and the Senate were working on the various bills,
another series of disasters occurred. A tanker grounded off
the coast of Nova Scotia, a drilling platform exploded off
New Orleans, and another tanker grounded in Tampa Bay.4
In 1970, Congress enacted the National Oil and Hazard-
ous Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP), which superseded
the 1968 National Multiagency Oil and Hazardous Material
Contingency Plan. The new plan defined the term “hazard-
ous substance” and mandated that strike forces respond to
Since its inception in the early 1970s, the National Strike
Force (NSF) has provided support for thousands of incidents
throughout the world. It has evolved and continues to be
a relevant and effective special team for U.S. Coast Guard
federal on-scene coordinators (FOSCs), Environmental Pro-
tection Agency (EPA) on-scene coordinators (OSCs), as well
as a deployable specialized force for all federal incident com-
manders during all-hazard responses.
Today’s National Strike Force draws on decades of experi-
ence, from the U.S. government’s actions to address oil spills
in the 1970s, to hazardous material releases of the 1980s,
incident management emergence in the 1990s, and today’s
weapons of mass destruction and consequence management
Oil Spills of the 1960s and 70s
In March of 1967, the Torrey Canyon ran aground in shallow
waters off the coast of England. The vessel split, spilling an
estimated 119,000 tons of crude oil into the English Chan-
nel.1 As a result, President Lyndon B. Johnson directed the
secretaries of the Interior and Transportation to study our
ability to respond to such disasters.
The resultant report—Oil Pollution: A Report to the Pres-
ident—concluded that the U.S. was not prepared to deal
with a spill of this magnitude. Therefore, President Johnson
tasked the secretary of Interior to develop multi-agency con-
tingency plans for federal oil and hazardous materials spill
On November 13, 1968, the president approved the National
Multi-Agency Oil and Hazardous Materials Pollution Con-
tingency Plan (National Contingency Plan), which coordi-
nated federal, state, and local pollution incident response
capabilities. The plan provided guidance to develop a sys-
tem to prevent, discover, report, restrict, clean up, dispose
of, and recover the cleanup costs for pollution incidents.
From Oil to Anthrax
The National Strike Force’s long, messy history.
by CDR KEITH M. DONOHUE
Pacific Strike Team
History and Heritage
15Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
The First USCG Strike Teams
By 1973, the USCG established three strike teams:
• the Atlantic Strike Team, in Elizabeth City, North
• the Gulf Strike Team, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi;
• the Pacific Strike Team, at Hamilton Air Force
Base, Novato, California.
The three strike teams provided communications sup-
port, advice, and expertise in ship salvage, diving, and
hazardous substance removal techniques.
In the mid 1970s, the National Oceanic and Atmo-
spheric Administration and the EPA stood up addi-
tional special forces, known as scientific support
coordinators, and the USCG and EPA each estab-
lished public affairs teams. Each team was available
for USCG or EPA on-scene commanders to call upon
in need under the authority of the National Oil and
Hazardous Pollution Contingency Plan.
The First Tests
Then in December 1976, the vessel Argo Merchant
ran aground off Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, spilling
7.5 million gallons of oil. Although the spill saw a massive
response under the NCP, the size of the spill, combined with
the harsh weather conditions, exceeded the technological oil
recovery capabilities of the time.5
As a result, in March 1977, President Carter recommended
specific measures to better control maritime oil pollution,
including improved response times and enhanced federal
ability to respond to oil pollution emergencies. He also
directed the USCG and the EPA to improve their ability to
contain and minimize the damaging effects of oil spills. The
specific goal was to develop the ability to respond within six
hours to a spill of 100,000 tons.
In response, the USCG conducted a series of deployment
requirement studies, which led to the prescribed six-hour
response standard that today’s strike teams still provide. In
addition, throughout the 1970s, the strike teams expanded
their equipment inventory. For example, personnel devel-
oped an air-deliverable anti-pollution transfer system and
an open water oil containment system, designed specifi-
cally for high seas and strong wind conditions; a fast surface
delivery sled for pollution response equipment; and added
skimming capability to current methods, which enabled
containment and recovery operations to occur simultane-
Then, on June 3, 1979, another oil disaster struck, as a blow-
out occurred at a well in the Gulf of Mexico. For more than a
month, between 10,000 and 30,000 barrels of oil per day were
discharged. Although Mexican authorities, the U.S. Coast
Guard, and cleanup companies from around the world
responded, a huge slick moved toward Texas and ultimately
affected its coastline by the end of the summer.6
Chemical Releases of the 1980s
The Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act
In response to growing public awareness regarding hazard-
ous waste sites across the country, such as Love Canal in
New York, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environ-
mental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CER-
CLA) on Dec. 11, 1980, to help seal the response gap that
previously only provided federal mandates and funding to
respond to oil and some hazardous material on navigable
waters. CERCLA also established a new fund (the Super-
fund) specifically to finance hazardous materials cleanup
As the United States shifted to a more proactive approach,
on Dec. 3, 1984, a chemical release from a pesticide plant in
Bhopal, India, killed more than 2,000 people.7 Subsequently,
the following year, back in the United States, a release of
aldicarbi oxime occurred at a facility in Institute, West Vir-
ginia.8 These incidents heightened the need for emergency
planning for major accidental chemical releases.
Congress responded, and, on Oct. 17, 1986, passed the Super-
fund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986,
which extensively revised existing CERCLA and mandated
A Coast Guard helicopter prepares to hoist people off the tanker SS Argo Merchant,
which ran aground off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, December 1976. Photo
courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s office.
16 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
National Strike Force Signiﬁcant Events
1 9 7 0 s
Three strike teams
M/V Metula grounding,
Strait of Magellan
M/V Showa Maru,
Straits of Malacca
M/V Argo Merchant oil spill,
M/V Golden Jason,
Newport News, Virginia
USNS T/V Potomac
oil spill, Greenland
IXTOC No. 1 oil well spill,
Bay of Campeche, Mexico
oil spill, San Juan, Puerto Rico
First Level C entry, chemical facility,
Santa Fe Springs, California
First Level A entry,
waste processing facility, Escondido, California
M/V Rio Nequin aluminum phosphide explosion,
Atlantic Strike Team
M/V Exxon Valdez
Loma Prieta earthquake,
San Francisco, California
1 9 8 0 s
First CERCLA case, Winchester fire,
1 9 9 0 s
El Morro, Puerto
M/V Mega Borg
oil spill, Texas
at Fort Dix,
Cuban boat lift
San Jacinto River
oil spill, Texas
TWA Flight 800
M/V Julie N oil
oil spill, Alaska
Red River flood,
Egypt Air Flight
M/V New Carissa
Coos Bay, Oregon
Trader oil spill,
Gulf War oil spills,
2 0 0 0 s
Alaska Airlines crash,
Pepco oil spill,
9/11 terrorist attacks,
New York and
District of Columbia
Rouge River oil spill,
Cosco Busan oil spill,
San Francisco, California
collision, New Orleans,
explosion, San Juan,
Ex U.S.S. Chehalis
Space Shuttle Columbia recovery,
Texas and Louisiana
Athos 1 oil spill,
17Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
2 0 1 0 s
Horizon oil spill
F/V E.S.S. Pursuit
mustard canister recovery,
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New York and
T/V Jireh grounding,
Deployable Operations Group
devolution, NSF becomes an
Atlantic Area unit
Public Information Assist Team
transitions to Incident Management
Freshwater Tissue Paper
Mill hazmat removal,
Operation for the Prohibition of
Department of Defense support
that the National Oil and Hazardous Pollution
Contingency Plan again be revised.
Additionally, the act required that all releases
of hazardous substances be reported to state
and local emergency planning officials.
SARA also provided mechanisms for citizens
and local governments to access hazardous
chemical information from facilities in their
communities and mandated local emergency
planning committees and local emergency
CERCLA and SARA also significantly
increased Coast Guard and EPA OSC respon-
sibilities for response to hazardous substances
and established a new realm of response for
the special forces. USCG policy established the
level of hazardous substance response capability within a
USCG FOSC’s area of responsibility, based on the risk of
chemical release and the availability of commercial, state,
local, and other federal response capabilities. Follow-on
studies showed that USCG marine safety offices were not
adequately staffed or funded to maintain their own response
equipment; therefore, they were instructed to utilize the
strike teams for hazmat entries as necessary.
To meet the increased tasking, the National Strike Force
procured state-of-the-art chemical response equipment and
instituted a rigorous hazardous substance training program
for all NSF personnel, as, compared to oil spills, hazardous
substance release response requires much more caution,
technical expertise, and training.
In 1984, the USCG FOSC in Houston, Texas, relied on the
NSF when a container full of aluminum phosphide canis-
ters on a vessel exploded—filling the cargo hold with toxic
fumes. Then in 1985, the USCG captain of the port in San
Francisco called upon the Pacific Strike Team (PST) when a
drum containing insecticide was suspected of leaking inside
a container on an inbound ship. The PST—the only resource
available to board the ship at sea and make an entry into
the hazardous material environments—conducted a hazard
assessment and stabilized the container.9
Continuing response coordination efforts, the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final
rule on June 30, 1993, mandating departments to use the
Incident Command System (ICS) for all hazardous materi-
als incidents. This was the first ICS appearance in federal
regulation, and it changed the way the NSF did business.
USCG units and the National Strike Force adopted ICS,
strike team personnel became ICS instructors, and the ICS
spread to the rest of the Coast Guard.
Workers steam blast rocks soaked in crude oil from the leaking tanker Exxon Valdez. U.S.
Coast Guard photo.
Paulsboro, New Jersey
National Strike Force Signiﬁcant Events
18 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
events exceeded the capabilities of state resources, National
Response Team members responded under the NCP, consid-
ering anthrax a pollutant or contaminant in accordance with
the definition under CERCLA.
Under that definition, the NSF was deployed for both the
September 11th attacks and the anthrax events that followed
to implement ICS structures, perform on-site air monitor-
ing, assist with sampling and health and safety support,
and to establish wash-down stations for rescue workers
at the World Trade Center; on Capitol Hill; in Boca Raton,
Florida; and at other anthrax response locations. Following
9-11, the NSF has increasingly been deployed to national
security events such as Winter Olympics and Super Bowls
and other national special security events to be on standby
for potential biological or chemical mass casualty events.
Notwithstanding the traditional statutory NCP pollution
preparedness and response roles, which utilize the array
of support functions the NSF provides as a special team for
federal OSCs, the NSF now has a new WMD and terrorism
consequence management role.
About the author:
CDR Keith M. Donohue is the commanding officer of the Pacific Strike
Team. His previous assignments include Coast Guard Activities Europe;
MSU Port Arthur, Texas; Coast Guard headquarters, Environmental Stan-
dards Division; and MSO Providence, Rhode Island. He holds an M.S. in
marine affairs and a B.S. in chemical oceanography.
Hearings before the Committee on Public Works House of Representatives Ninety
First Congress First Session on H.R. 4148 and Related Bills to Amend the Federal
Water Pollution Control Act, (February 26, 27; March 4, 5, 6, 1969), Serial No. 91-1.
Oil Pollution: A report to the President, a report of a special study requested by President
Johnson by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Transportation, February 1968.
Oil Pollution, Hearings before the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries,
House of Representatives, Ninety-First Congress, First Session on H.R. 6495, H.R.
6609, H.R. 6794, and H.R. 7325, Bills to Amend the Oil Pollution Act, 1924, for the
Purpose of Controlling Oil Pollution From Vessels, and for other purposes, (Febru-
ary 25, 27, March 11, 12, 13, 18, 26, 27, 28, April 1, 1969); Serial No. 91-4.
National Multi-Agency Oil and Hazardous Materials Pollution Contingency Plan.
1. See www.nmmc.co.uk/index.php?/collections/featured_pictures/remember-
2. The Department of Interior, Department of Transportation, Department of
Defense, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Office of Emer-
3. Available at www.geog.ucsb.edu/~kclarke/Papers/SBOilSpill1969.pdf.
4. See www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001451.html, for a list of oil spills and disasters.
5. See 40 FR 12658.
6. Federal register, Vol. 45, No. 55, Wednesday, March 19, 1980, p. 17832 -19833, and
Franklin, B. Toxic Cloud Leaks at Carbide Plant in West Virginia. New York City: The
New York Times, August 12, 1985.
7. Jasanoff, S. (1994) Learning from Disaster: Risk Management After Bhopal. University
of Pennsylvania Press.
8. The National Response Team: 1989 Annual Report, Annex D, p. 66.
9. Storch Jr., and Captain R. L. Report of a National Strike Force Study; Commandant
G-MER ltr, March 15, 1990. U.S. Coast Guard: NSF Study Itr’16450 of: 29 Jan 90.
10. See www.uscg.mil/history/.
11. P.L. 93-288 as amended by P.L. 100-707; Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and
Emergency Assistance Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 5121, et seq.).
Between 1989 and 1990, several large oil spills created, yet
again, new focusing events for the NCP. First, in March 1989,
the most notorious oil spill to hit the U.S. occurred when the
tank vessel Exxon Valdez grounded off the coast of Prince
William Sound, Alaska. The spill discharged approximately
11 million gallons of oil and affected approximately 1,300
miles of coastline. The response ultimately involved more
than 10,000 workers during a four-year period.10
In response, after 15 years of unsuccessful attempts to pass
similar legislation, the House and Senate unanimously
passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), which
expanded federal removal authority, added federal on-scene
coordinator responsibilities, and broadened coordination
and preparedness planning requirements. OPA 90 also
directed developing a national planning and response sys-
tem that would include tank vessel response plans, facility
response plans, and area contingency plans—all of which
were to be adequate for “worst case” response.
The act required the Coast Guard to establish a national
response unit to relieve equipment and personnel short-
ages and provide spill contingency planning coordination
among federal agencies. Specifically, this unit would:
• maintain lists of spill response equipment,
• provide technical assistance,
• coordinate equipment and resources,
• assist in preparing area contingency plans,
• administer the Coast Guard’s strike teams.
Thus, Coast Guard leaders established the National Strike
Force Coordination Center (NSFCC) in Elizabeth City, North
Carolina. The NSFCC, along with a newly created Coast
Guard Public Information Assist Team, and the three Coast
Guard strike teams, became the Coast Guard’s new National
Strike Force (NSF).
Today’s Response Realities
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pen-
tagon on September 11, 2001, and the anthrax events that
began in October 2001, tested federal response capabilities
in ways they have never been tested before. Shortly follow-
ing the September 11 attacks, major disaster declarations
under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency
Assistance Act triggered full federal response plan imple-
mentation and tested federal capabilities nationwide.11
The anthrax events posed different, yet concurrent, tests for
federal responders. Although none of the individual anthrax
19Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
The Exxon Valdez
In March 1989, that world was stood on its head when the
Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The 311(k) fund balance that day was $6.7 million. Fortu-
nately, Exxon Corporation undertook the spill response and
quickly repaid all the federal response costs, which eventu-
ally came to more than $120 million.
This catastrophic event (and expense) engendered thorough
Clean Water Act review, focusing most significantly on the
adequacy of the 311(k) fund. In response, Congress passed
the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), which created the Oil
Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF). The OSLTF structure
retained the 311(k) fund’s penalty and cost-recovery revenue
and added dedicated excise tax revenues of one nickel per
barrel of crude oil produced or imported into the United
States, and the same amount for any refined petroleum
products imported into the United States. Excise tax revenue
currently exceeds $400 million each year.1
To the extent Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund monies are not
needed for spills, Congress charged the Treasury with
investing available OSLTF funds in its own securities. The
Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) and
the Treasury review these amounts annually. Annual inter-
est earned averages $17 to $18 million. Cumulative interest
earned since OSLTF creation exceeds $870 million.
Changes Under OPA
OPA also changed how the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was
spent. The 311(k) fund was a revolving trust fund. If funds
were available, the federal on-scene coordinator (FOSC)
could use them to respond to a spill. If the fund balance fell
too low, Congressional appropriations in the annual budget
process augmented it.
Additionally, while the Clean Water Act allowed spending
the 311(k) fund for oil or hazardous materials response, OPA
The Clean Water Act/Federal Water Pollution Control Act
of 1972 (CWA) and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) are
arguably the most expansive federal pollution laws. They
provide guidance, and, most important for responders, cre-
ate a range of response tools to deal with oil and hazardous
materials spills on U.S. waters.
Key components include:
• an expectation that the spiller is responsible and liable
to clean up the spill;
• creating the National Contingency Plan and defining
federal on-scene coordinator authorities;
• creating “special teams,” including the Coast Guard’s
National Strike Force and the Environmental Protection
Agency’s (EPA) Emergency Response Team;
• financing a fund that pays for removals if the respon-
sible party does not step forward.
The Coast Guard manages this fund, which:
• pre-empts the responsible party from using delay as a
response option, despite the law;
• provides the federal on-scene coordinator the money to
quickly hire private response companies if the responsi-
ble party does not act or if the spill’s origin is a mystery.
The 311(k) fund, named for the CWA section in which it
appears, was used in its first year and during responses to a
significant number of oil spills by 1973, engendering much
growth in the spill response industry.
In 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmen-
tal Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
and its attendant fund, commonly referred to as “Super-
fund,” to pay for response to chemical spills and hazardous
waste sites. Thus was born a dual-fund world: CERCLA/
Superfund for hazardous materials, pollutants, and con-
taminants and 311(k) for oil.
The Oil Spill Response Fund
Four decades of success.
by MR. ALLEN R. THURING
Senior Financial Analyst
Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center
History and Heritage
20 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
restricted Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund use to strictly oil
incidents. OSLTF provides three spending vehicles:
• an emergency fund,
• a claims fund,
• annual Congressional appropriations to the agencies
charged with implementing OPA.
The Emergency Fund
The emergency fund pays for oil spill responses. It is an
annual appropriation of $50 million, which remains avail-
able until expended. Amounts that are unused at the end of
the fiscal year are automatically carried forward to the next
fiscal year and added to the new $50 million appropriation.
In addition to the annual automatic appropriation, Con-
gress amended OPA to allow the Coast Guard to request an
advance of up to $100 million in any year, when response
costs exceeded the emergency fund’s available balance. In
2010, Congress further amended this provision for the Deep-
water Horizon spill response to allow the Coast Guard to
make unlimited $100 million advances to the emergency
fund, as long as there were sufficient available funds in the
overall Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
The Claims Fund
The claims fund is a permanent indefinite appropriation that
is not subject to Congressional appropriation. This fund can
1972 Data not available $1,180,547
1973 Data not available $9,439,340
1974 Data not available $4429964
1975 Data not available $7974507
1976 Data not available $15,318,823
1977 Data not available $8,643,653
1978 Data not available $9,922,986
1979 Data not available $18,741,710
1980* Data not available $25,197,136
1981 Data not available $19,745,356
1982 Data not available $3,754,490
1983 369 $1,941,534
1984 400 $3,965,934
1985 305 $4,447,173
1986 338 $9,422,180
1987 278 $3,924,246
1988 198 $1,429,278
1989 235 $35,508,608
1990 324 $14,985,057
1991** 304 $14,080,636
1992 437 $8,276,922
1993 488 $13,465,182
1994 514 $49,701,236
1995 531 $25,963,431
1996 576 $31,066,127
1997 559 $29,161,042
1998 624 $33,137,823
1999 743 $40,034,938
2000 646 $50,527,350
2001 909 $77,924,921
2002 493 $59,975,180
2003 547 $41,625,976
2004 504 $43,087,052
2005 482 $50,760000
2006 447 $51,942,000
2007 425 $47,712,687
2008 475 $41,609,847
2009 418 $45,744,104
2010 398 $241,346,635
2011 399 $273,667,321
2012 402 $178,380,025
2013 342 $94,579,524
*Passage of CERCLA ** Passage of OPA 90
Claims Paid Total Claims Paid
1993 247 $11,138,129
1994 436 $3,590,347
1995 265 $2,625,552
1996 234 $1,626,517
1997 1292 $4,597,436
1998 598 $3,696,498
1999 507 $10,429,893
2000 601 $2,400,572
2001 311 $16,781,535
2002 299 $7,026,961
2003 480 $24,160,560
2004 239 $7,035,355
2005 222 $13,675,346
2006 180 $16,131,140
2007 157 $3,849,1257
2008 129 $25,554,000
2009 156 $70,830,204
2010 194 $42,288,016
2011 228 $38,190,636
2012 129 $187,765,284
2013 131 $84,636,182
21Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
The USCG NPFC tracks and compiles incident costs and
expenditures and then bills responsible parties. If the
responsible party does not pay promptly, the NPFC refers
the debt to either the Department of Justice or the Depart-
ment of Treasury for further collection activity. Currently,
the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund accounts receivable bal-
ance is more than $289 million. Total cost recoveries to the
fund exceed $1.2 billion.
So does the fund meet the goals set at its inception? Yes,
by all measures, it has succeeded. Oil spills on U.S. waters
are promptly cleaned up, either by the spiller or through
the FOSC/National Contingency Plan structures. The fund
also has proven to be eminently scalable, allowing response
equally to small, localized spills and also major spills of
national significance—most recently the Deepwater Horizon
oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Most importantly, for more than 40 years, every Coast Guard
or EPA FOSC has been able to draw upon the appropriate
funds for every oil response.
About the author:
Mr. Allen R. Thuring is the senior financial analyst at the Coast Guard’s
National Pollution Funds Center. Since 1983, he has managed Coast Guard
oil and chemical response funds. He was the Coast Guard fund manager for
the Exxon Valdez response and has been involved with every major oil and
chemical spill response since then. He is a former Coast Guard officer and
has spent 43 years with the Coast Guard. He holds a B.A. from the Univer-
sity of Virginia and an MBA from George Washington University.
1. OPA suspended the tax when the OSLTF balance exceeded $1 billion, and Con-
gress included a sunset provision that ended the tax on December 31, 1994. Con-
gress reinstated this excise tax in 2006 and revised the tax provisions further in
2009. First, Congress removed the upper limit on the OSLTF balance that would
suspend excise tax collection. Second, the excise tax was raised to $0.08 per barrel
of crude oil produced or imported into the United States, and the same amount for
any refined petroleum products imported. In 2017, the excise tax rate increases to
$0.09 per barrel, and the excise tax is due to end on December 31, 2017.
only pay OPA claims resulting from oil spills when claims
were either ignored or denied by the responsible party or for
claims from mystery oil spills where no responsible party
could be identified.
The claims fund limit is essentially the OSLTF available bal-
ance when the claim is adjudicated. OPA allows claims for
various reasons, but they generally are for unpaid response
costs, economic damages, or natural resource damages. OPA
does provide two general limits on amounts that can be
spent on an incident:
• no more than $1 billion can be expended on a single
• no more than $500 million can be spent on natural
resource damage claims for an incident.
The Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center is del-
egated authority under OPA to receive and adjudicate all
Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund claims, and more than $700
million has been paid out of the claims fund to date.
Each year Congress appropriates funds to the Coast Guard,
the EPA, and various other federal agencies charged with
responsibilities under OPA. The total amount appropriated
out of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund varies, but it gener-
ally totals around $100 million each year. Congress can and
does provide agencies with guidance from time to time on
how these appropriated funds are to be used.
The Polluter Pays
The final major OPA provision affecting the Oil Spill Liabil-
ity Trust Fund deals with spiller liability and cost recovery.
This is commonly referred to as the “polluter pays” prin-
ciple. If the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund must be used for an
incident, the responsible party is liable for all the costs that
result from the FOSC’s actions, all emergency fund expendi-
tures for the incident, and all claims fund expenditures that
result from the incident.
For more information:
All fund statistics courtesy of the Coast Guard
National Pollution Funds Center. For more
information, go to www.uscg.mil/npfc.
22 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
by Mr. Peter A. Brunk
When I first came aboard the strike team, I had no idea what
would be involved. I met Atlantic Strike Team (AST) per-
sonnel previously, while serving as USCGC Sledge’s com-
manding officer. At the time, we used their divers to recover
submerged pilings at a lighthouse in Roanoke Sound, North
Carolina. Most of AST’s equipment was excess Army and
Navy property—boats, motors, cranes, and trucks—then
later, as the strike teams did more jobs, they were able to get
In August 1975, I reported to the Atlantic Strike Team. The
teams had just returned from two major oil spill responses:
• the tanker Metula, in the Straits of Magellan off Chile, in
• the tanker Showa Maru, in Straits of Malacca between
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, in January 1975.
Both ships were VLCCs (very large crude carriers) and both
spills resulted from groundings. In each case, the strike
teams used an air-deliverable anti-pollution transfer sys-
tem (ADAPTS) for pumping operations. Unlike other gear,
the Coast Guard developed the ADAPTS, which consisted
of pumping systems, towable storage tanks, and a high-
seas barrier. Each system could be delivered by parachute
in winds up to 40 knots with 10- to 12-foot seas.
I went on my first major spill near my hometown in Bal-
timore, Maryland, just two weeks after reporting in. Dur-
ing a fuel transfer operation, approximately 250,000 gallons
of No. 6 oil spilled into in the harbor. We were there for
30 days, recovering product.
Four Decades of Response
Four NSF team members recall their experiences.
by MR. PETER A. BRUNK
MR. MIGUEL L. BELLA
U. S. Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center
MR. MARK G. GREGORY
U.S. Coast Guard District 11 DRAT Equipment Specialist
DC1 KEN W. BOND
U.S. Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team
History and Heritage
EM2 John Bishop and CWO Peter Brunk return to the command post after
pulling oil containment boom. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The Edmund Fitzgerald
In November 1975, the AST executive officer and I left Eliza-
beth City, North Carolina, in 74-degree Fahrenheit weather
and arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, on the U.S. and Canadian
border, in 17-degree Fahrenheit snowy conditions. As an
ore ship followed the Edmund Fitzgerald, it disappeared from
I went aboard a Navy airplane to look for the wreck. Dur-
ing the first pass over the ship’s last known position, we
received a contact with a magnetic anomaly detector and,
after another pass, I noticed a small sheen. The ship had a
diesel bow thruster.
We marked it and then went back to Sault Ste. Marie, where
the crew’s families were waiting. Later, aboard the CGC
23Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
Shark Fin Shoals. I told the mate to get out of the notch, put
the hawser on the bow, and pull. We refloated the barge and
anchored it in Hooper Straits.
I called the helicopter crew at Patuxent River Naval Air Sta-
tion to come and pick me up, but we could not go to Eliza-
beth City, North Carolina, as it was snowing and blowing a
gale, and the helicopter was icing up. When we got back to
Patuxent, the helicopter basically fell the last 15 feet onto the
runway. It was a rough landing.
Shortly after that, a CG helicopter put me on another tanker
in heavy ice conditions in the Chesapeake Bay. The tide was
flooding, pushing the ship against a dredge spoil area out-
side of the channel. We had tugs there pulling, but making
no progress. I suggested that one tug proceed close to the
ship to relieve the pressure from the ice. As soon as the tug
pushed through the ice, the ship rocked and moved about
Woodrush, we took a picture of the wreck on the bottom,
with an experimental side-scan sonar.
In December 1975, we worked with the Gulf Strike Team
when a barge became stranded in the surf line west of San
Juan, Puerto Rico. No. 6 oil was pouring out of the barge,
and for the next 37 days, we used ADAPTS to pump off the
In January 1976, we responded to a grounded vessel in
Rodanthe, North Carolina. The vessel had been en route to
a scrap yard in Texas, under tow, when the hawser parted
during a storm and the ship went on the beach. The ship
had a belly full of No. 6 oil in its double-bottomed tanks.
We went aboard and set up ADAPTS to pump the product
up to the ship’s deep tanks, so it could be refloated. While
working this job, we received a call about a possible spill off
Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
So, I went from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to the east-
ern shore of Virginia, via CG helicopter, and found 200,000
gallons of No. 6 oil on approximately 20 miles of shoreline.
It was a massive cleanup operation, lasting 30 days. We had
900 open-topped drums filled with oil and debris.
A friend who served with me on the USCGC Madrona, and
I discovered a way to burn the oil.1
In May 1976, a tug near Cleveland, Ohio, was trying to shift
from a hawser to pushing and got a line in the screw. Its
barge had hit a jetty, and by the time I got aboard, it was
sinking. We used a 50-ton steam derrick to hold the barge
until we rigged the air-deliverable anti-pollution transfer
system. We pumped No. 6 oil from the barge into another
barge. There was no cleanup, as it was very rough, and the
The Argo Merchant
In December 1976, we arrived on the scene of the M/V
Argo Merchant, which ran aground on the Outer Nantucket
Shoals. The Coast Guard removed the crew and used the
USCGC Bittersweet and Spar and Army sky crane helicopters
to put ADAPTS and other equipment onboard.
There were a lot of problems, due to the weather and the
vessel’s location. The ship broke in half three days before
Christmas, spilling approximately 7.5 million gallons of
No. 6 oil, which dispersed in heavy seas.
Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Snow
In January 1977, a helicopter put me on a tug to assist the
captain on a barge that ran aground in Tangier Sound,
Maryland. The tug was in the notch, trying to back off of
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic
Oil leaks from a barge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by BMC Bill Lockwood.
24 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
20 feet. After a few more passes by the tug, the ship refloated
with no damage.
In February 1978, we flew in a C-130 to Stewart Air Force
Base, New York, to respond to a barge taking on water in
the Hudson River. It was a bad landing in snow with zero–
degree weather. We went to the barge via the CGC Sweetgum
and used ADAPTS to stop the barge from sinking. We had
a lot of problems, as ice was up to three feet thick on the
Hudson River. We used the barge’s engine/pump to remove
No. 6 oil and refloated the vessel.
The after-rake on an ice-covered barge flooded in January
1978, and the tug put the barge aground at Eatons Neck
in Long Island, New York. No. 2 oil was released from the
barge but dissipated, as it was very rough. LT Joe Kuchin,
BM2 Jim Klinefelter, and I went aboard the barge via the
Huntington Bay harbormaster’s boat, and we tightened up
some of the hatches and used the barge’s engine to pump off
the remaining product into another barge.
When this job was finished, we proceeded to Portland,
Maine, via C-130, where a coastal tanker ran aground. For-
tunately, the tanker was not leaking. It was refloated with
no problems and docked in Portland. As soon as the tanker
was secured, it started snowing.
response, a civilian salvage man actually swam under the
engine and put a patch on the hull.
In July 1977, the strike teams experienced their first true Arc-
tic response when a tanker hit an underwater iceberg and
spilled approximately 100,000 gallons of product in Baffin
Bay, Greenland, more than 300 miles north of the Arctic Cir-
cle. We moved equipment from a Navy facility at Cheatham
Annex in Virginia, using a C-5, C-130s, and a C-141 airplane
and skimmed from the USCGC Westwind and USNS Mirfak.
About the author:
CWO4 Peter A. Brunk retired in 1980 with 26 years of Coast Guard service.
He served as skipper of the Nantucket lightship from March 1970 to July
1971, and as operations officer for the Atlantic Strike Team from 1975 to
1978. He was skipper of CGC Sledge for the second time when he retired. He
now works for IMS Environmental/Hepaco in Norfolk, Virginia.
1. In addition to oil and debris, we has tens of thousands of dead ducks. We received
an air permit for the burn from the EPA, and used my friend’s stump burner to
by Mr. Miguel L. Bella
I arrived at the Pacific Strike Team (PST) in the summer of
1980, finding a hangar devoid of any personnel except for
the executive officer and the operations/dive officer, as most
of the crew and the skipper were off battling an oil spill in
Working hard and with the help of my teammates, I memo-
rized pumping capacities for all the equipment, load weights
for pallets used on C-130s, and worked hard to learn my
During one drill, we were outfitted in chemical suits and
played basketball until the bottles emptied and the face-
masks collapsed into our faces. That drill taught us what
it feels like to run out of air and to deal with the situation
I passed my board qualifying as a response member and
was finally able to carry my own weight. Soon the team
was off and running, fully outfitted with a new “chem van”
and lots of equipment. That was the start of PST’s chemical
In July 1981, the PST responded to a chemical facility explo-
sion in Santa Fe Springs, California. This was the first time
we entered a site in Level C personal protection equipment1
and the first time the regional Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) utilized the Superfund. As the EPA did not
DC2 Bruce Firth leaves a barge after securing loose hatches. U.S. Coast
Guard photo by PAC Dale Pucket.
During the night, we received a call about a tanker dragging
anchor and in trouble in Salem, Massachusetts. The tanker
ran aground, putting holes in the engine room and in at
least one tank with No. 6 oil. We could not get to Salem, as
all roads were closed due to the blizzard, so I spoke with the
commanding officer of the CGC Spar, and he said he could
take us and our equipment to the tanker.
Upon arrival, we put our equipment onboard and started
setting up the ADAPTS pumping system. During this
25Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
Well, never say “never.” In March, I answered an early-
morning page, to find that, sure enough, Miss March had
grounded (ironically, in March).
I came into my own during the Exxon Valdez response, and
learned how to swing loads from Chinook helicopters; fig-
ured out the language required to order DOD assets includ-
ing C-5A’s; organized check-in and -out procedures for local,
federal, and state responders; created forms that captured
personnel and equipment hours; and then converted that
information into a billable format (used to invoice Exxon
Then in October 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake devas-
tated the San Francisco Bay area. We were called out to use
our pumping capacity to transfer more than 80,000 gallons
of gasoline in a Richmond, California, refinery.
All told, in 1989 alone, the PST deployed to more than
20 hazmat and oil responses, requiring more than 3,460 man
days, and for our efforts, we received the Coast Guard Foun-
dation Admiral John B. Hayes Award.
About the author:
Mr. Miguel Bella served in the Coast Guard for more than 21 years and
retired as a chief warrant officer. His assignments included CGC Resolute,
two PST tours; plank owner for D11DRAT; CGC Hamilton; and finishing
off his active duty in San Pedro, California. During 9/11, he responded as
a member of the CG National Pollution Funds Center, where he currently
serves as a regional manager in the Case Management Division.
1. See www.cbohsep.org/Libraries/MRC_-_Training_-_Basic_Training/Personal_
2. See http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/01/00047/4-05.htm.
3. The highest level of protection.
have a way to track cost, I adapted the
CG forms to fit the EPA’s requirements.
This provided a way to track all finan-
cial information for the case and would
ultimately lead to the EPA’s system in
In July 1982, we responded to a waste
processing facility in Escondido, Cali-
fornia. Battling 107-degree Fahrenheit
heat, the PST successfully made its own
Level A entry, 3 with no outside sup-
port, and categorized and secured a
site that had been a community eyesore
and health hazard. My teammates and
I completed the first PST entry in fully
encapsulated chemical suits. I remem-
ber being frightened, but I stuck to our
training and to the task. As we exited
the site and walked through the decon-
tamination wash-down, I was glad to breathe regular air
again, and I poured about a pint of sweat from each boot.
The Right Stuff
In March 1982, we were fortunate to have our PST facilities
become part of the movie “The Right Stuff,” which focused
on test pilots. During filming, the PST crew sometimes par-
ticipated as extras. If you rent the movie today, you can see
the PST hangar in various scenes, along with great cameo
shots of our bathroom.
I returned to the Pacific Strike Team in 1987 and found the
unit spent about 70 percent of its time on chemical response,
20 percent oil response, and 10 percent on other stuff, includ-
ing training and static displays. I was not there but a week,
and off I went to assist with an asbestos hazmat site.
During the following few years, I deployed to the western
states, assisting EPA FOSCs with hazard categorization,
cost documentation, and occasionally used my commercial
license to drive 18-wheelers and other big rigs.
1989: The Year that Never Seemed to End
Early in 1989, we responded to a call for assistance from
MSO Honolulu, Hawaii. Due to a storm, the Exxon Houston
was in danger of breaking from its fuel moorings. During
that response, we noticed an Exxon calendar on the bulk-
head. My teammates and I examined the vessels for January,
February, and stopped short on March. We looked at each
other and agreed that we’d never want to see such an enor-
mous vessel in a real response. The Exxon Valdez was fine
where she sat—on the calendar.
A chemical storage site, Escondido, California, July 1982. SK3 Miguel Bella and MK1 Bill Price, first
Pacific Strike Team “Level A” entry. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
26 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
by Mr. Mark G. Gregory
When I arrived at the Pacific Strike Team in summer 1992,
I had no idea what I was getting into. My Coast Guard expe-
rience at this point was on an icebreaker, an aids to naviga-
tion team, and on a patrol boat.
At that time, most crew members were Exxon Valdez vet-
erans, and the strike team was all about big equipment.
Dracones1 the length of football fields, tractors, and trailers
were parked all around the property.
One of my first jobs at the team was to dispose of a dracone
that had been returned from Exxon Valdez that would leak
oil when the sun shone. In Novato, California, in the sum-
mer, this was every day. So really my first spill cleanup at
the PST was in the back yard, where I learned the value of
lots of sorbents, secondary containment, and wearing rub-
In October 1992, I participated in a large salvage/oil spill
drill, in Valdez, Alaska. Here I learned the value of a can
of ether, while hand-cranking a prime mover on a frozen
pier. In January 1993, the area around Riverside, California,
flooded, causing oil wells to leak. We assisted State Fish and
Game personnel in contractor oversight during the oil spill
After this, I finally got to make Level B entries at a chrome
plating facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. We pumped all kinds
of plating liquids into drums for offsite disposal. The owner
had left a 1970s motorcycle on the site, so to
keep up our fitness level, we pushed each
other around the site on the bike in our
Level B equipment.
In March 1993, we pumped waste oil from
a barge near Antioch, California. The next
month, I arrived in Port Arthur, Texas, in
the middle of the night and went to work
on a barge, skimming oil. This was my first
time working for the Gulf Strike Team.
They called us “pumpkin heads,” because
we wore orange hardhats. They would soon
start to call me “Gulf Team West,” because
I spent so much time working with them.
The next response was a classic example
of some of the poor decisions that lead to
oil spills. A facility owner cut the top off
of his storage tanks for the scrap metal. An
ensuing 11-day heat wave caused the asphalt in the tanks to
expand and overflow into Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. So
we spent the July 4th weekend cleaning up the waterfront.
In August 1993, I was in Tampa, Florida, for the response
to the collision involving M/V Balsa 37, the tug Seafarer and
barge Ocean 255, and the tug Capt. Fred Bouchard and barge
No. 155. During this job, we pumped gasoline, deployed
boom, skimmed oil, and just generally used most of the oil
spill equipment in the strike team inventory.
Back to California, we worked an asbestos site on the gravel
roads of Calaveras County, California. (Who knew asbestos
is naturally occurring?) We conducted air monitoring and
drove around creating a lot of dust, trying to figure out how
much asbestos was in the road material in a potential hous-
We spent a month in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June, collecting
paint cans from the bottom of Keehi Lagoon, conducting
hazard categorization, and bulking them for disposal. In
August, I was in Vancouver, Washington, where a plating
facility had a leaking tank that was jeopardizing the city’s
water table. We removed the liquids and handed over the
damaged part of the tank to EPA investigators for evidence.
Back to the Gulf, I was in Houston, Texas, for San Jacinto
flood relief. This was huge, as we dealt with flooding, rup-
tured pipelines, oil and gasoline spills, and a fire. We devel-
oped some great alternate strategies to remove the oil and
gasoline from swamps and forested areas, including burn-
ing and building weirs to separate oil from water. We also
collected orphaned hazardous material
and conducted air monitoring.
January 1995 started with a bang, when a
tug and barge ran aground during a bad
storm off Crescent City, California. We
worked with a tug to pass a line and get
them towed out to sea when the weather
The following month, I went to Denver,
Colorado, responding to radioactive and
toxic waste in a residential neighbor-
hood. We conducted site safety and air
and radiation monitoring, while bulking
and packing the drums to be shipped off-
site for disposal. I had never worked with
radiation before, and for the next year
I returned to this site several times.DC1 Greg Schultz communicates with
Pacific Strike Team members, while aboard
a tanker, 1991. U.S. Coast Guard photo by
CG Public Information Assist Team.
27Spring 2015 Proceedingswww.uscg.mil/proceedings
1. Flexible containers used to store/transport liquid.
by DC1 Ken W. Bond
In 2000, I received orders to report to the Atlantic Strike
Team (AST). I had no science background, knew nothing
about environmental work, and thought response was about
stopping a boat from sinking.
My first year or so at the AST consisted of education and a
variety of EPA Superfund cleanup site visits. These deploy-
ments varied in their assignments, from making Level B
hazmat entries into burned-out warehouses to gauging rail
Everything changed on the morning of September 11, 2001.
I was in Level C personal protective equipment, sampling an
acid tank at an abandoned leather tannery in upstate New
York, when I heard that an airplane had crashed into the
World Trade Center in New York City.
Two days later, I was standing on top of the Staten Island
Landfill at Fresh Kills, New York. My assignment there was
to develop a worker safety and air monitoring plan for the
sorting operations underway to recover human remains
from the debris being removed from ground zero.
In March 1995, the strike force
responded to major flooding in
Monterey, California. We used
National Guard helicopters to find
orphaned drums, cylinders, and
tanks, which we would collect and
bulk the wastes for disposal.
We also responded to major flood-
ing in the St. Mary’s, Idaho, area
in early 1996. Once again, we used
National Guard helicopters to find
orphaned drums, cylinders, and
tanks. We pulled oil tanks and
drums out of trees and back yards.
In March 1996, we responded to a
mystery bird kill in St. Paul, Alaska.
We arrived at the Loran station to
capture oiled birds, clean them,
and take care of the ones that did
not survive. The oil came from a passing vessel (later caught
in a foreign port).
While in Alaska, our mission changed, when a fishing ves-
sel ran aground in the middle of the night. We borrowed
pumps, hoses, and a tank truck from the locals; built a high-
line system; and were able to pump enough fuel off the ves-
sel to make it light enough to be towed free.
I left the strike team in 1996 to go to the CGC Cowslip; and,
in 1999, I was home sweet strike team home again. Later
that year, we responded to a large tire fire in California and
provided air monitoring, communications, oil recovery, and
all the other things the strike team does on any site.
The year ended for me in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
During a hurricane in 1991, multiple vessels grounded and
although most of the hazards had been removed, now they
had started leaking again. We provided support in remov-
ing oil and anhydrous ammonia from the grounded vessels.
We swam to work every day; and, by the end of the job, we
were all great swimmers and experts in diaphragm pumps.
In the middle of all these jobs, we found time to learn and
then teach the Incident Command System, oil spill and
hazmat response, and conduct VOSS, SORS, and lightering
drills. I left the team in 2002 and then came back in 2006,
as the engineering officer—not bad for a boatswains mate.
About the author:
Mr. Mark Gregory retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2013 after 27 years.
He continues to work in the emergency response industry.
Pacific Strike Team and Gulf Strike Team members gather for a picture after completing a successful
response, July 1991. U.S. Coast Guard photo by MK1 Fred Valadez.
28 Proceedings Spring 2015 www.uscg.mil/proceedings
No Rest for the Weary
With the response to the World Trade Center still in full
swing, another event captured the headlines and signaled
my next deployment—anthrax. Persons unknown had
mailed a letter containing anthrax to a senator in the Dis-
trict of Columbia, contaminating the mail room and office
buildings around the Capitol, and bringing everything that
takes place there to a standstill.
Arriving at dusk, I helped establish an entry point and
dress-out area to begin sampling offices in the Hart Senate
Office Building. I worked the night shift for the next month,
supervising more than 100 sampling and evidence collection
entries. While entries were taking place, the NSF command
element was staffing Incident Command System positions
to maintain control of what started out as a panic situation.
All of these efforts led to a successful six-month cleanup
In early February 2003, people watched in horror on national
television as the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over
Texas. That evening found me in Jasper, Texas, where
I supervised 20 collection teams in a volunteered private
aircraft hanger, which would soon become the central ship-
ment location for all the debris.
Then in April, Senate Majority Leader Frist was mailed a
letter containing ricin, a highly toxic substance. Again, the
National Strike Force responded to our nation’s capital, lead-
ing the charge in key ICS positions and leading entries for
sampling and decontamination.
As with the anthrax case two years before, I drew night
shift, but unlike before, we had a deadline. Saturday night,
the unified command informed us that the Capitol would
re-open Monday morning. The day shift was recalled, all
remaining personnel at the Atlantic Strike Team mobilized,
and the longest day began. We completely decontaminated
the affected areas of the building and a weary crew packed
up by 7 a.m. Monday morning. Some crew members worked
a 48-hour shift, but we got the job done.
The next event would test our oil spill response capabilities,
as the tank vessel Athos I struck a submerged object in the
Delaware River near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, spilling
265,000 gallons of heavy oil. When lightering was complete
and the ship patched up, I demobilized from the case. Four
months later, I again received orders to the Athos response,
with marching orders to wrap it up. On my arrival, 1,800
workers were present on the response. During the next three
weeks, we reduced the amount of workers to less than 100.
From the “you can’t make this stuff up” file, we deployed
to New York City to assist the EPA with anthrax cleanup.
A gentleman living in Manhattan, who made authentic tribal
drums using imported animal hides, had contracted inhala-
tion anthrax, prompting the decontamination of his work-
shop and apartment. A full AST hazmat team responded.
In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Hurricane Rita pummeled
the Gulf Coast. My assignment for both storm responses
was vessel salvage—finding vessels wherever they ended
up, cataloging them, finding the owners, and overseeing
vessel removal. One vessel, in particular, a 220-foot long
Soviet ship, purchased after the cold war, had been sitting
idle for decades. This ship was sitting high and dry on a
beach with no known owner. I explored this dark ship, mak-
ing note of the Cyrillic writing, trying to translate it, so we
could remove fuel and oil from the vessel. Eventually the
ship was scrapped in place, after we removed more than
100,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil from its bunkers.
Petty Officer Kenneth Bond, a damage controlman with the U.S. Coast
Guard Gulf Strike Team, surveys damaged rail cars in Braithwaite, Louisiana,
after Hurricane Isaac. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Elizabeth H.