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Geographic Response Strategies: Frequently Asked Questions

What are GRS?
Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) are site-specific response plans tailored to protect sensitive areas threatened by an oil spill. GRS are map-based strategies that can save time during the critical first few hours of an oil spill response. They show responders where sensitive areas are located and where to place oil spill protection resources.
How do GRS fit with other oil spill response plans?
Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) are designed to be a supplement to the Subarea Contingency Plans for Oil and Hazardous Substances Spills and Releases. Alaska is divided into ten Subareas, each of which has a regional oil spill response plan, known as a Subarea plan, which supplement the Alaska Federal/State Preparedness Plan for Response to Oil and Hazardous Substance Discharges/Releases (Unified Plan). GRS are the current standard for site-specific oil spill response planning in Alaska.
Who will use the GRS?
The strategies serve as guidelines for the federal and state on-scene coordinators during an oil spill in the area covered by the GRS. The GRS are a great help in preplanning for a spill response and can provide excellent guidance during a spill response, but are not a mandate for specific action at the time of a spill. As part of the subarea contingency plans, they have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At what point in a spill response are the GRS implemented?
Implementation of Geographic Response Strategies is the third phase of an oil spill response. The first and primary phase of the response is to contain and remove the oil at the scene of the spill or while it is still on the open water, thereby reducing or eliminating impact on shorelines or sensitive habitats. If some of the spilled oil escapes this tactic, the second, but no less important, phase is to intercept, contain and remove the oil in the nearshore area. The intent of phase two is the same as phase one: remove the spilled oil before it impacts sensitive environments. If phases one and two are not fully successful, phase three is to protect sensitive areas in the path of the oil. The purpose of phase three is to protect the selected sensitive areas from the impacts of a spill or to minimize that impact to the maximum extent practical.
What about other sensitive sites where no GRS have been developed?
The sites selected for development of Geographic Response Strategies are not meant to be exclusive. The fact that a GRS has not been developed for a sensitive site does not imply that the site should not be protected during an oil spill. Other sensitive sites may require protection during any given oil spill. GRS development can also benefit sites where no GRS are in place, because the tools and experience that are used to develop a GRS can also be transferred to non-GRS sites. GRS development gives oil spill responders a chance to work through sensitive area protection and spill response logistics without the added pressures of a spreading oil spill.
How does the GRS development process work?
GRS development follows the same general process throughout the State of Alaska. First, workgroup participants identify all sensitive areas that have the potential to be classified as “Areas of Major Concern” under the criteria established in the governing Subarea Plan. These potential sites are then evaluated based on the additional criteria of 1) risk of being impacted from a water borne spill; and 2) feasibility of successfully protecting the site with existing technology. Using this process, the workgroup selects a preliminary list of sites. These candidate sites are then released for public input. Feedback on site selection is solicited from tribal representatives, user groups, environmental organizations and the general public. Based on the feedback received, the workgroup then makes the final site selections. In many Subareas, GRS development has followed a phased schedule, so that candidates sites which are not selected for immediate GRS development may be revisited in the future. Once site selection is complete, an Operations/Tactics committee, composed of spill response professionals, is formed to develop draft strategies for each site selected. Once completed, the draft strategies are reviewed and approved by the entire workgroup. The final GRS are forwarded to the appropriate Subarea Committee with the recommendation that they be adopted as part of the Subarea Contingency Plan. GRS are not considered final until they have been approved by the Subarea Committee.
Won't there be times when the GRS are not appropriate or feasible?
GRS are intended to be flexible, to allow the spill responders to modify them, as necessary, to fit the prevailing conditions at the time of a spill. Seasonal constraints, such as ice or weather, may preclude implementation of some of the strategies in the winter months. It is not intended that all the sites be automatically protected at the beginning of a spill, but rather those that are in the projected path of the spill. The strategies developed for the selected sites were completed with a focus on minimizing environmental damage, utilizing as small a footprint as possible to support the response operations, and selecting sites for equipment deployment that will not cause more damage than the spilled oil.
Will the GRS be tested?
Each site will be visited and equipment deployed according to the strategy, to ensure that the strategy is the most effective in protecting the resources at risk at the site. Revisions will be made to the strategies if changes are indicated by site visits, drills or actual use during spills.
Has this page answered all your questions about the GRS process in Alaska?
If you need more information, please send us an email to with any additional questions you might have about GRS or this process.

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