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  • Article
  • Contingency Planning

What is Contingency Planning?

Despite best prevention efforts, spills will inevitably occur. Lucy talks about the contingency planning process as an effective preparedness measure.

  • By Lucy Short
  • 4 min read
  • Oct 18, 2022

What is Contingency Planning?

Good prevention initiatives can go a long way in reducing the risk of pollution. However, despite best efforts, spills will inevitably occur. When this happens, it is necessary to ensure that effective preparedness measures are in place that will provide a timely and coordinated response to limit the adverse consequences of pollution incidents involving oil. 

What is a Contingency Plan? 

Contingency plans are a proactive strategy to account for a disruptive event such as an oil spill. Individuals, teams, and organisations minimise the impact of such an event with the help of a contingency plan, ensuring preparedness for when an incident occurs. Contingency planning is a component of business continuity, disaster recovery and risk management. 

A contingency plan will provide structure for the management and implementation of response operations and allow the user to respond more readily to an incident by following the guidance. 

Oil spill contingency planning is the process of developing a suitable spill response capability that complies with the regulatory framework and is commensurate with the oil spill risks of an organisation or facility.

How Will an Oil Spill Contingency Plan (OSCP) Help During a Spill? 

During an oil spill, the contingency plan will guide the user on how to respond to an oil spill of any tier specific to the organisation. It will facilitate an effective and efficient initial response to incidents. It will provide the decision-making tools and information needed to organise and support an ongoing or escalating response while adjusting to the realities of changing conditions. The OSCP will provide initial actions to take in the form of a flow chart and key action cards for specific roles in both the tactical and strategic teams. Stakeholders will have key contact details for notification and mobilisation for assistance. There will also be guidance on how to set up the response team and possibly integrate with the national authorities if responding in joint command. Response actions detail the expectations of the business, helping you understand the national authorities' expectations of you. The available tiered equipment will be listed, allowing you to make response decisions based on the immediate spill and reality.    

Supporting documents/appendices should include additional background information or material not directly required during a response. These include planning justification and preparedness details, e.g. risk assessment documentation and Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (NEBA). These documents will be required for regulatory review, planning assessments and plan updates. 

The combined plan and supporting documentation should demonstrate a rigorous planning process to build the response capability. 

Why Do I Need One?

The International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC 90) is the international legislation that provides a framework designed to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to major oil pollution incidents. 

Under the auspices of OPRC 90, signatory countries are required to have an oil spill contingency plan. 

States which are party to OPRC 90 are required to establish a national system for responding to oil pollution incidents, including the provision of a designated national authority, a national contact point and a national contingency plan. The plan must be complimented by a minimum level of response equipment, communications plans, regular training and exercises.   

The Planning Cycle

The oil spill preparedness planning process is a structured approach to developing a spill response capability. It allows an effective initial response to an oil spill and sustains an ongoing response proportionate to the risk. 

An OSCP is the output of the oil spill preparedness planning process, establishing a robust tiered preparedness and response framework. Previous experience demonstrates that having a well-developed, approved, implemented, and exercised OSCP can reduce the potential impact of an oil spill on people, the environment, assets, and business reputation. This includes having suitably trained personnel, an adequate response capability, well-executed and exercised scenario planning, and relevant oil spill preparedness plans. 

The complexity involved in the planning process will significantly depend on the type of operation, local conditions, and environmental and socio-economic sensitivities. However, the overall objective is to develop a capability for an effective initial response and sustain an ongoing response proportionate to the risk. This capability requires suitable equipment, sufficient logistics, and trained responders supported by proven, exercised plans. A reliable system of review and maintenance will ensure the plan remains relevant and appropriate to changing levels of risk as an organisation matures or evolves, a cyclical process that should remain active over the lifetime of an operation. 


IMO (1990). International Convention on the Oil Pollution, Preparedness, Response and Co-operation(OPRC)  

IPIECA IOGP. (Revision 2016) Contingency planning for oil spills on water. Good practice guidelines for the development of an effective spill response capability. 

IPIECA-OGP (2014c). Framework for oil spill preparedness and response. IPIECA-OPG Good Practice Guide Series, Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project (OSR-JIP). OGP Report Number 520.

Do you know how you would respond efficiently and effectively during an oil spill?

Our contingency planning service is a systematic approach to explore what can go wrong and the steps to take in an emergency.

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