Three consecutive Category 4 hurricanes — an unprecedented number — made landfall in the U.S. in 2017 (Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria). The Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R’s) newly formed Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) and existing Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) provided support to NOS by coordinating across all NOS program offices to gather information on NOS mission support, logistical needs, and impacts to NOS personnel and infrastructure. The DRC also provided a safe haven for NOS response field teams pre-staging to respond to Hurricane Irma, and deployed staff to South Florida to support response and recovery actions. The DPP and the DRC subsequently led the development of the 2017 Hurricanes After Action Report and the execution of the Improvement Plan. Actions taken through the Improvement Plan put NOS in a better preparedness posture for future disaster responses. Of note, the creation of the NOS Coordination Dashboard provided staff across NOS, organizationally and geographically, with a central repository for providing and receiving response and recovery information during an emergency.
The 2017 hurricane season left a swath of destruction and significant amounts of marine debris over large areas of the Caribbean, the Southeastern U.S., and Texas. NOAA’s Marine Debris Regional Coordinators functioned as the statewide Natural Resource Advisor Coordinators during four separate rotations. Additionally, NOAA's Florida Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide was used to determine agency jurisdiction for debris issues and identify consultations with other agencies. In early 2018, NOAA received $18 million in disaster relief funding to aid in coastal recovery efforts by supporting marine debris assessment, removal, and disposal in the impacted areas of Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In March 2018, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R), NOAA leadership, and executives from 15 federal agencies and the National Security Council, participated in a national level Spill of National Significance (SONS) exercise on behalf of the Department of Commerce, at the invitation of the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The exercise is part of a series that tests the level of senior leadership engagement that is necessary for response to the most complex spill scenarios. NOAA leadership is involved, due to statutory roles, in providing scientific support for coastal oil and chemical spills, assessing injury to species and habitats, and restoring impacted natural resources after a spill.
In March 2018, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the United Nations Environment Programme (U.N. Environment) co-hosted the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego, California. The conference brought together more than 700 participants from over 50 countries to work towards a debris-free ocean. The conference aimed to celebrate and encourage further innovation, collaboration, and action around this far-reaching topic, highlighting innovative marine debris solutions, research, and technological advances since the last international marine debris conference held in 2011, and facilitated discussions around strategies to minimize the impacts and occurrence of marine debris. A major strength of the conference was its diversity of disciplines and expertise, including science, art, outreach, and education from government, academia, private industry, and nonprofit sectors.
During 2018, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) reached multiple agreements that require companies across the U.S. to restore natural resources that were damaged following the release of industrial pollution. The settlements and agreements include six natural resource damage assessment cases, yielding $34.3 million, for the restoration of public natural resources to restore Baltimore’s 68th Street Dump Superfund Site in Maryland; salmon habitat in Port Gardner and the Snohomish River in Washington; the Sheboygan River and Harbor Superfund Site in Wisconsin; fish and other natural resources for the St. Louis River Interlake/Duluth Tar Site in Minnesota; birdlife in the wake of the Buzzards Bay Bouchard Barge 120 oil spill, which occurred between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 2003; and fish and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana for the Shell Green Canyon oil spill.