Explore Topics

Emergency Management

Table of contents



By their very nature, major emergencies such as wildland fires, structural fires, severe storms, and hazardous materials spills can have a significant impact on the natural resources of a park. Failure to anticipate potential disasters or to provide adequate response may result in a public outcry and possibly unnecessary damage or loss of the resources of the park. Prior planning should anticipate these emergencies as much as possible and outline preventive actions and emergency response procedures to take in advance of the emergency. The purpose of this section is to provide guidance to superintendents, resource managers, and other park employees on avoiding or minimizing impacts on park natural re­sources resulting from incidents of this type.


Unnecessary damage and loss:  Elimination of park resources, or damage or disruption to ecosystems severe enough to threaten their continuation, which could have been controlled, minimized, or mitigated; for example, loss of critical habitat of threatened or endangered species.

Policy and Program Objectives

The NPS Management Policies states:

    The National Park Service will develop a program of emergency preparedness in accordance with title VI of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.,  National Security Decision Directive 259...,  Department of the Interior policy, and other considerations at the Washington headquarters, regional, and park levels. The purpose of the program will be to maximize visitor and employee safety and the protection of resources and property. This program will include a systematic method for alerting visitors about potential disasters and evacuation procedures.... Each park superintendent will develop and maintain an emergency operations plan to ensure an effective response to all types of emergencies that can be reasonably anticipated. (

Natural resources should be considered when developing the park's emergency operations plan in order to avoid unnecessary damage and loss of these resources. The comprehensive emergency operations plan must be developed in accordance with DO/RM 50C Visitor Safety. In preparing this plan, the park must develop a risk analysis and identify the potential impacts that various types of incidents might have on the natural resources of the park. The emergency operations plan should identify the necessary actions in order to provide a controlled response that will first protect human health and safety and second take the necessary steps to prevent further damage or loss to the resource and mitigate current damage.

Relationship to Other Guidance

Additional guidance on emergency management procedures is provided in DO/RM 50C, Visitor Safety; DO/RM 18, Wildland Fire Management; DO/RM 9, Law Enforcement Program; DO/RM 28, Cultural Resource Management; and DO/RM 51, Emergency Medical Services. See also in this Reference Manual, Hazardous Waste Management.

Program Guidance

A comprehensive emergency operations plan should direct the park staff on how to limit the extent or impact of the emergency and how operations can be returned to normal. It is important in emergency planning that all potential threats be identified and evaluated in terms of their occurrence and impacts on natural resources. Only in that way can the emergency operations plan focus on those emergencies in a manner that may limit or prevent the occurrence of resource damage and ensure preparedness on the part of the park staff.

The variety of threats and hazards that can cause emergencies in parks include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Environmental hazards:  Debris flow, wildfire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, volcanic eruptions.
  • Human activities: Human-caused fire; accidents (hazardous waste spills, industrial accidents, failure of dams, airplane crashes); transportation system failures (shipwrecks/train wrecks) and associated oil spills; accidents involving broken fuel pipelines.

A comprehensive emergency operations plan should describe how and by whom decisions are to be made in order to maintain control over the incident. The plan presents a step-by-step process for dealing with emergencies. Adequate manpower and equipment should be identified. The emergency operations plan should outline responsibilities and contain a list of non-NPS resources.

In addition to planning the response during an emergency, the associated action plans should identify recovery activities to mitigate the damage to park natural resources that occurred as a result of the incident (e.g., fire management plans should include actions to ensure that suppression lines are rehabilitated). The plan should prioritize actions to prevent the greatest damage to resources while maintaining public safety.

Natural resource managers should provide substantial input in the development of emergency operations plans to identify sensitive resources and appropriate response procedures for their protection. Further, natural resource personnel should be trained in the All Risk-Incident Command System (ICS) so that integration into the emergency incident command response team can be facilitated.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Director of the National Park Service establishes and approves servicewide natural resource policies and standards. The Director is ultimately responsible for establishing natural resource programs that conserve natural resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations and for ensuring that such programs are in compliance with directives, policies, and laws.

The Associate Director, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (ADNRSS), has functional authority, often through a subordinate division or office, for developing policies and standards for the Director's approval; providing policy oversight of NPS natural resource programs, including evaluating the results of field performance in complying with directives, policies, and laws; providing direct assistance to parks in specific program areas; and administering natural resource programs for which the ADNRSS has direct authority.

The Associate Director, Park Operations and Education, has functional authority, often through subordinate divisions or offices, for developing policies and standards for the Director's approval; providing policy oversight of NPS Operations and Education, including evaluating the results of field performance in preparedness and complying with directives, policies and laws; operations employees provide direct assistance to parks in specific program areas; implementing emergency operations plans is one of the critical program areas of this Associate.

Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (or other Washington Office) divisions/offices exercise the Associate Director's responsibility by administering specific natural resource programs, including those that provide direct assistance to parks in carrying out natural resource activities and in interpreting natural resource policies, regulations, and guidance; formulating servicewide natural resource standards, policies, and regulations; developing and promulgating methods, procedures, and guidelines to help parks conduct effective natural resource programs; and carrying out functional oversight within assigned program areas.

The regional director, through or with the assistance of an assistant or associate regional director, is responsible for ensuring that natural resource programs within the region are uniformly implemented in compliance with directives, policies, and law; and identifying regional coordinators and contacts for specific program areas, where required, who can provide information and data about park natural resources and natural resource programs to Washington Office. Regional offices are responsible for review of park operations plans and associated action plans (fire management plans, hazardous waste management plans, etc.).

Support office natural resource staff and/or cluster or regional natural resource program coordinators have responsibility for assisting parks in needs identification; data collection and analysis; planning, program, and project development; and for providing advice on scientific and natural resource management issues.

The superintendent is responsible for understanding the park's natural resources and their condition. The superintendent is responsible for establishing and managing park natural resource programs and ensuring that they comply with directives, policies, and laws. The superintendent is responsible for the preparation, approval, and implementation of the emergency operations plan and necessary action plans such as structural fire plan, wildland fire plan, spill prevention, control and countermeasure plan (SCCP), and facility response plan (FRP).

The park chief ranger, on behalf of the superintendent, carries out needs assessments and planning and conducts and participates in operational emergency activities in compliance with directives, policies, and laws.

The park natural resource manager, on behalf of the superintendent, carries out needs assessments and planning and conducts operational natural resource management activities in compliance with directives, policies, and laws.

Emergency Management Table of Contents | RM#77 Table of Contents
update on 02/05/2004  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/rm77/emergency.cfm   I  Email: Contact Us
Please download the latest version of Adobe Reader :: Free Download