NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) brings together NOAA-wide resources to improve preparedness, planning, and response capacity for natural and man-made disasters along the Gulf Coast. Located in Mobile, Alabama, the center is focused on the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
The facility is designed to survive up to Category 5 hurricane winds, contains a Force-5 tornado shelter, and has backup power systems to continue operations in the midst of severe weather. Intended to serve as a safe and ready command center during major disaster responses in the Gulf, the DRC also offers facilities for drills, training, workshops, and planning activities.
NOAA’s Response Asset Directory
NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) - housed in the Office of Response and Restoration - takes a leadership role in building NOAA’s preparedness and ability to respond to, and mitigate, environmental impacts from natural and human-caused disasters such as hurricanes and major oils spills. As part of the National Ocean Service Roadmap resilience and response strategies, an online NOAA Response Asset Directory (NRAD) was developed. The NRAD is an all-hazards resource directory that includes searchable and spatial information on physical resources, as well as NOAA services which could be used or in need of protection during response and recovery from disasters.
The pilot project has been completed for six states at high risk for hurricane threats - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Initial responses highlight the application as a very powerful planning, response, and incident recovery tool, and the expectation is that the directory will expand nationally over the next year. With the implementation of the NRAD, NOAA will be better positioned to respond to future disasters efficiently through improved shared knowledge and access to available resources for all NOAA staff.
Regional Preparedness Trainings
From flooding events to oil spills, NOAA works to ensure that local, state, and federal responders are prepared and understand threats, potential consequences, agency authorities and responsibilities, and available products and services aids in planning, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, part of the Office of Response and Restoration, developed and provided three stakeholder-focused NOAA Regional Preparedness Trainings (NRPTs) across the Gulf to address specific response issues and enhance regional preparedness within NOAA and partnership agencies and groups.
The first NRPT, in Galveston, Texas, focused on improving response for oil spills impacting the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The course examined response options such as dispersants and in situ burning in highly sensitive protected areas. The NRPT in Mobile, Alabama, focused on understanding affected stakeholders and threats from a natural disaster and concurrent spill on commerce and the environment in the Port of Mobile and adjacent sensitive habitats. The third NRPT, St. Petersburg, Florida focused on improving responders’ knowledge and abilities to communicate information regarding controversial and alarming publicly sensitive topics - such as dispersant use, seafood safety, fisheries impacts, and public health concerns - to the public.
Incident Command System 300 Course
In 2016 NOAA’s Disaster Response Center (DRC), in coordination with internal and external partners, continued to fill preparedness gaps by developing the NOAA Incident Command System (ICS) 300: Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents. ICS is a standardized approach to effectively manage disaster situations and has been adopted at all levels of government—local, state, and federal. ICS creates a standardized system that is intuitive and easy to follow, but also allows for flexibility since each situation is different. The DRC developed an ICS 300 course specific to NOAA’s needs to support internal management of emergencies, as well train NOAA staff who are deployed in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US Coast Guard, and other federal agencies during disasters. The NOAA ICS 300 course meets the requirements of the standardized ICS 300 curriculum, but also includes information on regulatory authorities, NOAA’s roles during emergency response, NOAA’s Concept of Operations Plan, and other key aspects of disaster response that are unique to NOAA’s preparedness and response.
The pilot class for this new course was held in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the DRC plans to offer this course multiple times throughout each fiscal year to build knowledge and a broader response capacity with NOAA.