The U.S. Coast Guard and 50 other federal, state and private organizations will conduct the triennial Spill of National Significance Exercise or SONS 2010 from March 22-25 in the northeast region of the U.S. SONS 2010 is a full-scale exercise designed to test response to a Spill of National Significance. A SONS is a spill that due to its severity, size, location, complexity or impact requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up.
As the lead federal agency for pollution incidents in coastal zones, the Coast Guard conducts this type of exercise every three years. Since 1994, exercises have taken place in Pennsylvania., Alaska, Texas, California, and the Midwest.
The Coast Guard's role in environmental protection dates back more than 175 years to the Timber Act of 1822 that mandated the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service protect government timber from poachers. In 1968, federal roles and responsibilities for oil spill responses were defined by the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, also known as the National Contingency Plan. The plan was updated in the early ‘90s, to include the lessons learned from the March 24, 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Today the Coast Guard continues to protect the marine environment as one of its 11 statutory missions.
This year’s exercise will focus on the response to a simulated oil spill affecting the Northeast . The scenario will include a collision between a tanker transporting of 430,000 barrels of crude oil and a car carrier during a severe snowstorm. The simulated collision will occur about 15 miles from shore in the Gulf of Maine. During the response, the tanker will simulate the loss of 69,000 barrels of crude oil while sinking at the entrance to the harbor in Portland, Maine.
“The support of our vital federal, state and local partners, and our industry partner, Shell, has been phenomenal and we expect to have a vigorous and valuable exercise,” said Rear Adm. Paul R. Zukunft, SONS 2010 exercise director. “The lessons we learn together with all our partners will influence national response policy and improvements to the National Response System.”
The SONS Exercise Program has four overarching goals: increasing the preparedness of the entire response organization from the field level up to agency leadership in Washington, DC.; exercising the National Response System at the local, regional, and national levels using a series of large-scale, high probability oil and hazardous material incidents; providing an environment for an unprecedented level of cooperation throughout all levels of government, private sector, and non-governmental organizations; and offering broad opportunities to improve plans and procedures.
SONS 2010 is the only Coast Guard-sponsored Department of Homeland Security Tier II exercise on the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program five-year calendar. The exercise involves more than 600 members from a variety of federal, state, local, tribal and private organizations.